St. Louis Zoo Locks Down After Bear Escapes Habitat

St. Louis Zoo patrons were thrown into lockdown Thursday after an Andean bear escaped its enclosure.

The 4-year-old bear, named Ben, escaped from his enclosure at the zoo at around 1 P.M. local time Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, the bear was corralled and tranquilized by zoo personnel and safely transported back to his enclosure less than an hour later. Ben’s escape is the second one this month.

“Zoo staff responded immediately and he’s now being transported back to his indoor holding area,” St. Louis Zoo spokesman Billy Brennan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via text, at around 1:45 p.m. “Guests and staff are safe and inside buildings at this time. We expect to have the ‘all clear’ shortly and operate normally.”

The Post-Dispatch reported that the zoo received the “all clear” within five minutes. Guests, who had been asked to shelter in the primate house and herpetarium, were allowed to resume walking around the zoo.

The incident is the second time this month that Ben has escaped his enclosure. The first time, on February 7, Ben tore open the metal mesh of his enclosure and worked his way out. He was discovered outside of his habitat at around 8 A.M. local time and was recaptured at around 9:40 A.M. “It would appear that the very curious bear meddled with the steel mesh in just the right spot of the outdoor habitat, causing a cable to give way, which then allowed the bear to work his way out,” the zoo wrote on social media at the time, via the Post-Dispatch. “Team members will continue to inspect his habitat and make decisions to make it even more secure than it is now.”

After the first escape, zoo employees added stainless steel ties — used to secure cargo on freight ships — with 450 pounds of tensile strength to the enclosure. “We thought they would work, but he managed to snap the clips again,” said St. Louis Zoo director Michael Macek. “We’re obviously looking at other methods to secure the mesh to the frame.”

True to their name, Andean bears are native to the Andes mountains in South America, ranging as far north as Colombia and as far south as Bolivia. They are also called spectacled bears for the markings on their faces. The species avoids humans but is also threatened due to poaching and loss of habitat. Ben arrived at the St. Louis Zoo in 2021.

The escape of the bear comes just weeks after a wild series of animal disappearances at the Dallas Zoo that were anything but accidental. The saga began on January 13, when a clouded leopard named Nova escaped its habitat. Social media found the whole thing a great joke, and the animal was recovered, but Dallas police said at the time that it appeared the habitat had been intentionally cut. The next day, Dallas Zoo employees found that the langur monkey habitat was also cut open; fortunately, all the monkeys were accounted for. Then on January 21, an endangered lappet-faced vulture was found dead; police described the bird’s cause of death as “unnatural.”

Then at the end of the month, two emperor tamarins were stolen after the mesh around their habitat was cut open. Police arrested a suspect in connection with three of the four incidents.

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