A little bit of chaos and panic ensued at the Cincinnati Zoo on Wednesday when a female polar bear escaped her enclosure. Luckily, the zoo managed to get things under control rather quickly, and no one was injured during the polar bear’s escape. Today reports that Berit, a female polar bear at the Cincinnati Zoo, got out of her “behind the scenes containment area,” and held the zoo and all of its visitors and staff hostage for a short time while she was wrangled and contained.
While the Cincinnati Zoo did announce on its Facebook page that a polar bear had “escaped,” they later clarified that that the bear was “never loose in the zoo,” adding that the situation was “ongoing but under control.” The Cincinnati Zoo representative who made the social media post added that there was “no risk to staff or visitors in the park.”
While early reports indicated that a single polar bear had escaped, local news affiliate WLWT reports that it wasn’t just one but two polar bears who broke out of their enclosure. According to the local media report, Berit was joined by her mate Little One during her adventure.
The Cincinnati Zoo managed the polar bears’ escape act by moving zoo visitors indoors; however, the zoo said that anyone who wanted to leave had clearance to do so. The zoo did stop allowing new visitors to the park while the polar bears were still at large.
According to Cincinnati Zoo representatives, guests were never in danger due to the roaming polar bears. Zoo officials went on to explain why their visitors were safe, as well as how the curious bears managed their escape.
Zoo officials say that Little One and Berit didn’t do much to plot their escape, but rather the pair merely took advantage of an open pen door. When the pair of polar bears escaped from their enclosure, they didn’t escape into the main zoo. Rather, they entered their exhibit’s “secondary containment system.” Following the polar bears’ escape, keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo notified zoo vets that the polar bears weren’t where they belonged.
The zoo’s director, Thayne Maynard, told the media that while the bears technically escaped, in doing so they proved the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Zoo’s double-containment system.
“The double-containment system that we have in place in the polar bear exhibit worked. The bears entered an inappropriate area, but did not leave the building and the public was never at risk.”
Zoo visitors took to Twitter to report their experiences during the polar bear escape and lock-down. One visitor, Kevin Sullivan, said in a tweet that a “zoo rep told us they have the bear contained but is still at risk of getting out into the zoo.” According to Sullivan, he and other visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo were holed up in the monkey house while the polar bears were being fully contained.
Another witness to the excitement, Leah Naumann, said that she was sent to the manatee house for protection during the polar bear incident. According to Naumann, she had just visited the polar bear exhibit about 25 minutes before being ushered into the manatee house, and that the bears had been “really active” when she’d seen them.
She also told local media that she was told by Cincinnati Zoo employees that the escaped animals were trapped in a tunnel; she said that around noon local time, visitors were told by zoo employees that they could either go to their cars with an armed guard or shelter in place until “the bears were secured.”
Fortunately for all involved, the situation was resolved quickly and the worst of the damage done during the escape was to people’s nerves.
One thing’s for certain, it’s unlikely that any polar bears’ pen doors will be left open at the Cincinnati Zoo again in the near future.
[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]