No matter how you feel about the morality of zoos, there’s no denying that they’re a real breeding ground for some madcap tales. Indeed, whether it’s the animals reacting badly to their captive environment or simply visitors doing some extraordinarily reckless things around them, you don’t need to be out in the wild to see some genuinely wild things.
10. Donkeys separated for natural causes
In 2014 a Polish politician successfully had a pair of donkeys at a Poznan zoo separated into different cages. The reason? Offended mothers who didn’t want their children to see the donkeys mating, regardless of the animals’ natural urges. Of course, this didn’t go down too well with everyone else.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the couple, who had been together for a decade, found each other again. Indeed, the story hit national news, and thousands quickly signed a petition to undo the separation, while experts expressed concern over the donkeys’ psychological wellbeing. Eventually, the zoo relented and reunited the animals.
9. A double killer took refuge in a zoo
It may sound ridiculous at first, but think about it: if you’re a fugitive looking for a place to hide with a constant source of food, a zoo starts to sound like a good idea. And that’s exactly what must have gone through the mind of Malcolm Naden, once Australia’s most wanted criminal.
Indeed, Naden spent seven years evading the authorities from 2005 to 2012. And during that time, he holed himself up in a New South Wales zoo, where he stole food from the animals and even ate tortoises. Eventually, he was captured and sentenced to life in jail, where the irony of being caged up was surely not lost on him.
8. A man jumped into the tiger enclosure
Feeding yourself to the tigers isn’t most people’s idea of a good day out at the zoo, but that may have been what was running through the mind of Yang Jinhai in 2014. Indeed, the then-27-year-old leaped into an enclosure of white Bengal tigers at a Chinese zoo while carrying a backpack full of rice.
Fortunately, the tigers had been bred from captivity, so were more docile than Yang had perhaps expected. In the end, he had a lucky escape, suffering only minor wounds before zookeepers could intervene. While he informed reporters at the scene that he had wanted to feed the animals, he had apparently been suffering from mental health issues, according to his family.
7. A man tried to convert lions to Christianity
Feeding them isn’t the only reason people have tried to get up close to big cats, however. Indeed, at a Taiwan zoo in 2004, a man jumped into the lions’ den seemingly hoping to convert the animals to Christianity. The then-46-year-old cried, “Jesus will save you!” at a pair of lions, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Unsurprisingly, the animals decided they’d much rather just take a few chunks out of the man, who had also shouted, “Come bite me!” Thankfully, staff managed to drive away the lions with water hoses before they could do too much damage, and he escaped with a couple of minor bites on his arm and leg.
6. A panda had a fake wedding
Panda populations are extremely low, but getting them to mate is difficult – after all, there’s only a tiny window once per year where they can successfully conceive. And even then, they rarely show much willing. At one zoo in Thailand, then, the staff resorted to some particularly bizarre measures to get their pandas to reproduce.
Indeed, they put on a fake wedding for the pandas, considered showing them videos of other pandas having sex and even put the male panda, Chuang Chuang, on a diet, claiming that he was too heavy to mate. Eventually, they turned to artificial insemination, which proved successful in 2009 with the birth of Lin Ping.
5. A visitor saved a chimp from drowning
Way back in 1990, a truck driver became a local hero – at least to the chimpanzees at Detroit Zoo. Yes, then-33-year-old Rick Swope managed to rescue a chimp from drowning in a moat around his enclosure. While everyone else just watched on, Swope dived into the water and grabbed the animal.
Despite chimps generally being far stronger than humans, he didn’t resist Swope’s attempts to save him. But once Swope had dragged him from the water to a round of applause, the Michigan native took off fairly sharpish, as another chimp advanced towards him, with bared teeth. The zoo staff, of course, were simply grateful.
4. A man poured beer over a tiger
Every summer, London Zoo opens its doors in the evening for an event it calls “Zoo Lates.” Billed as “an after party with the animals,” the events bring in plenty of cash for the zoo, but also plenty of problems – mainly thanks to the alcohol served on-site.
In 2014, for instance, a man reportedly poured beer over a tiger, while staff had to stop another attendee who had undressed and was trying to get into the penguin pool. Other guests reported seeing a reveler landing a punch on a bird by accident, hammering on exhibit windows and disturbing animals that were trying to sleep.
3. A tapir bit off a woman’s arm
Zookeeping may not strike you as the most dangerous job, but it’s seemingly far from the safest. In 1998 Lisa Morehead was completing her morning feedings at the Oklahoma City Zoo, when a tapir named Melody grabbed her hand – and pulled her straight through the opening into her cage.
According to the zoo’s director, Steve Wylie, the animal’s maternal instincts had kicked in. When Morehead pushed her hand into the exhibit, she had come between the tapir and her young. And the tapir’s reaction was to pull Morehead’s arm off, unfortunately mangling it beyond saving.
2. A raccoon developed an unhealthy obsession with breasts
In 2016 a Moscow-based “contact zoo,” called Animals Aren’t Toys, allowed an advertising agency to use one of its raccoons for a shoot. Apparently, it was unaware that this shoot would involve the raccoon, named Tomas, posing with a semi-naked woman – and the next year, the zoo ended up suing for the trauma the animal apparently suffered.
Indeed, a spokesperson told The Daily Telegraph, “Tomas came back withdrawn, always slept in the corner, and snapped at people,” noting that the raccoon had developed a tendency to reach for women’s breasts. The agency, however, denied any wrongdoing, and Tomas soon made a full recovery.
1. A martial arts student fought a lion
It’s always good to know when to take things literally in life – and when not to. For instance, then-32-year-old Ellie Quo probably shouldn’t have taken his kung fu instructor literally when the latter told him in 1989 that he could now kill wild animals with his bare hands.
Alas, Quo apparently did and headed off down to Melbourne Zoo in the dead of night to test out his new skills with a lion. You can probably guess what happened next. Indeed, all the zookeepers reportedly found of Quo the next morning was his hands.