Three months ago, after more than a year in a New Zealand aquarium tank, Inky the octopus decided to pursue — or maybe accidentally ended up pursuing, according to one octopus expert — a life of freedom in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a big ocean, so he’s almost certainly gone for good.
Before Inky, however, many other captive animals have tried to make their own great escapes into more human-populated terrain, and a few have been successful. But most that fought the law found that the law won.
Here are some of our favorite renegade animals — winners and losers alike.
The Maryland bison
In 2005, nine female bison wandered off Gerald “Buzz” Berg’s farm and joined the morning rush hour in the suburbs of Baltimore. For several hours, they galloped away from the reach of a dozen police and tactical team personnel in cruisers, a helicopter and ATVs. They traversed highways, fields, forests and back yards.
“They had themselves quite the little tour,” Lt. David Folderauer told The Washington Post.
Eventually, they reached Greene Tree, a gated community of townhouses two miles away, the sort of place “where a bison can roam,” as the Post article said. Police ended up forming a human chain and herding the herd onto the tennis court, where the animals nosed tennis balls around the smooth surface, jumped the net and drank from a kiddie pool that the officers had filled with water. For five more hours, the bovines eluded capture, until the officers finally used outdoor lounge chairs to push them into Berg’s trailer.
The bison had good reason not to go back: They were going to be meat. The farmer’s nickname for them: “You’re next.”
Stoffel, the South African honey badger
Stoffel the honey badger may be in an enclosure at a South African wildlife rehabilitation center, but he cannot be kept down. Just ask Brian Jones, his keeper, who told the BBC about his prison breaks. Stoffel can unlatch a gate, and he taught his female friend to do the same. He has dug holes to tunnel out from under the cement walls that pen him in. He has piled up rocks like a ladder to get over those walls; when returned to the enclosure, he propped up a rake, scaled up it and hopped over again.
“He outwitted us each time with his schemes,” Jones said.
In 2014, Jones wrote on Africa Geographic about why Stoffel, given his evident desire to be free, was in an enclosure in the first place. He’d been hand-raised by a farmer and had, therefore, “imprinted” on humans and couldn’t make it in the wild (which sounds very hard to believe).
Jones then described more exploits. Stoffel “caused havoc” at the rehab center by killing an eagle, rabbits and small bucks. He escaped to a local lodge, chased out kitchen staff, helped himself to snacks and tore apart baggage in guests’ rooms. He broke out of his pen and fought with lions at the rehab center, ending up in the animal hospital for two months. He escaped from a brick house built with the intention of finally — finally!? — keeping him down.
“In short a human imprinted honey badger can be a problem,” Jones wrote.
Flamingo No. 492, formerly of Kansas
A mostly white flamingo known as No. 492 recognized its opportunity when zookeepers in Wichita failed to clip its wings on time. The bird did what birds do: spread those wings and flew the coop.
That was the summer of 2005, and the flamingo never came back. It has since been spotted in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Texas. It was last seen near Port Lavaca, Tex., by a birder who spotted the flamingo’s zoo ID band. The zoo told Reuters that it never tried to round up the bird, which is about 20 years old and has been seen socializing with another flamingo known to have been raised in the Yucatan Peninsula.
“As soon as he had the chance, he flew out of here,” Scott Newland, the zoo’s bird curator, told Reuters. “His instincts are honed to do that.”
Goldie, the golden eagle from London
Goldie was a golden eagle who didn’t have a name until 1965 — when he made a break for it after a maintenance worker at the London Zoo left his cage open. The bird left behind his partner, Regina, and went on a 12-day bachelor’s jaunt in the city. He mostly hung out in Regent’s Park, where fans cheered him on and law enforcement officers tried to capture him. So did a reporter, who used an Ethiopian bird pipe in a failed attempt to lure the eagle in.
A zookeeper told the BBC that Goldie, as he came to be known during his escapade, would come back when hungry. Then he proved he knew how to hunt.
He was located “devouring a Muscovy duck in the grounds of the American Ambassador’s residence,” the BBC wrote, but “he was scared off at the last minute when a reporter tried to throw a coat over him and the bird abandoned his meal half-eaten.” He also attacked two Cairn terriers.
Eventually, though, Goldie was taken in by the promise of meat. A zookeeper captured the bird after luring him with a dead rabbit that was tied to a rope and placed near the zoo’s wild fowl sanctuary. Months later, he again escaped for four days, but that was the last time. He died two decades later, still in captivity.
Humboldt penguin No. 337 of Japan
In 2012, this penguin is believed to have jumped onto a rock much taller than it, slipped through a gap in a fence and said sayonara to a Tokyo aquarium where it lived. For 82 full days, the bird eluded capture attempts that involved the Japanese coast guard. It was filmed swimming in the Tokyo Bay.
Eventually, No. 337 was seized, hearty and hale, after being spotted swimming in a river five miles from the aquarium. According to the Guardian, the aquarium’s deputy director, Kazuhiro Sakamoto, said the penguin “looks like it’s been living quite happily in the middle of Tokyo Bay.”
Rusty, the red panda of DC
In the steamy summer of 2013, Rusty the red panda was a new kid in town, having come just weeks before from a children’s zoo in Nebraska. And he evidently wanted to explore the nation’s capital. He slipped out of the Smithsonian National Zoo on a Monday morning and immediately became the talk of the town (and the subject of a question at a White House news conference).
But shortly after lunchtime, he’d been done in by Twitter: A family spotted him in Adam’s Morgan and tweeted his photo, then called the zoo. Zoo and Washington Humane Society personnel found him in a tree and nudged him with a pole into a safety net.
In January 2014, he was transferred to the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., so he could mate with a fellow local red panda, Shama, in private. He’s now a father of three.
The zoo said it didn’t know how he’d escaped.
“He’s a young … male, and we all know how young males like to test their boundaries,” zoo curator Brandie Smith said.
The llamas of Arizona
In 2015, two llamas bolted upon arrival at a therapy visit to a former llama rancher living at a retirement center near Phoenix. A third llama, which must have been the obedient one, stayed behind when the trailer opened.
The daring duo darted in and out of traffic in Sun City —” disobeying pedestrian and vehicular laws,” according to the Arizona Republic — as the nation watched livestreams of their O.J.-like flight, and the Twittersphere lighted up with updates on the #llamadrama. The Post devoted six reporters to the story.
The bull from Queens
Just this month, a black-and-white Angus bull destined for slaughter decided to make a bid for freedom. He escaped from a livestock holding area and raced down a busy thoroughfare.
Trouble was, he was in Jamaica, Queens, where there’s neither a wide open horizon nor a dense forest good for concealing a one-ton body.
Still, the bull headed for the closest thing around to a pasture — the green lawns of the York College campus. Students made him a celebrity on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
But police were on his tail. They lassoed him in after half an hour or so, the New York Times reported.
So liberation was not in the cards for this bull. But neither was slaughter. In what counts as the happiest ending he probably could have hoped for, the bull was picked up by comedian Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey — who own an animal sanctuary in New Jersey — and transported to a sanctuary in Upstate New York.