The commotion started when the shaggy, reddish-brown ape, her infant in tow, climbed out of her enclosure and settled comfortably into a planter box of pansies near the National Zoo's main walkway.
Before long, Bonnie, a 170-pound orangutan, had a jug of orange juice in one hand and an Igloo cooler in the other and was enjoying lunch with a growing crowd of gleeful humans.
"She was surrounded by people and they were feeding her," said Sally Hunt, a keeper who witnessed the 11-year-old orangutan's get-acquainted lunch with humans on Saturday. "She was having a wonderful time having a picnic with the public."
Bonnie's repast was standard picnic fare: fried chicken and Coca-Cola. The chicken, according to one account, was offered up with little resistance by a visitor. The Coca-Cola, sad to report, was snatched in its plastic, souvenir cup -- the kind with pictures of zoo animals on it -- from a tourist.
Accounts vary as to how Bonnie got her hairy hands on the cooler.
Getting her back in her cage was easy -- keepers dropped bananas in her path. Figuring out how and when she escaped eluded zoo officials yesterday.
Lisa Stevens, the zoo's collection manager for primates and the famed giant panda couple, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, said yesterday that Bonnie apparently got out after the electrical barrier or "hot wire" that rims her enclosure shorted out.
She said the wire, also used to keep the lions, tigers and other animals from escaping, is checked daily. It makes a clicking sound when it's working, and Stevens theorized that Bonnie may have realized it had shut off. The ape then used a barrel in her yard to bridge the moat, settling in the elevated pansy bed where her glass enclosure meets the yard's back wall.
Because it was lunchtime, Bonnie's escape attracted a lot of attention, including that of two other orangutans, who later staged brief flights to freedom.
A keeper noticed the crowds around Bonnie and her baby Kiko, then noticed she was on the outside of her glass enclosure and holding the jug of orange juice and the cooler. Feeling an understandable need to verify the scene, the keeper called another employee, then sent for veterinarians and the zoo police, who moved the crowds back.
Bonnie was lured back into her cage about 1:30 p.m.
Stevens said keepers aren't certain how long Bonnie and her baby were out. Based on reports from visitors, they know she left her cage once, snatched the cola and returned to her pen. Then she ventured out again to picnic in the pansies.
At one point, Bonnie climbed on the roof of the Ape House. It was while keepers were preoccupied with capturing her that Indah, a younger female orangutan, decided to complicate the situation.
"She decided to make a break for it and go grab some chicken out of the planter," Stevens said. "She's only 8 and a bit more insecure. She climbed out, ran to the planter, grabbed some chicken and ran back inside."
Then Azy, a 10-year-old male, climbed to the outer edge of the moat for a people's-eye view of the situation.
Stevens said Bonnie remained calm during her unauthorized picnic, probably because she was hand-reared by keepers and is used to people.
Why didn't the visitors panic when the ape escaped? "They probably thought that this was nothing unusual and that they were seeing a normal zoo occurrence," said Stevens.
Stevens had only one last thing to say about the incident.
"I'd love to have a picture," she said. With or without the cooler.