The baboons are housed in an open-air corral surrounded by walls folded inward “to preclude the animals from jumping out,” according to the institute. But, perhaps foolishly, the institute gave them 55-gallon barrels as “enrichment” tools “used to help mimic foraging behaviors.”
To these baboons, however, the barrels were something much better than “enrichment” tools. Baboons are smart. They can do some math. They can use tools, which is what the barrels became. They figured out that if they rolled the barrels to an upright position near the fence and climbed on top of them, they could get out.
And that’s just what they did.
“The barrel was lifted in a strategic position in proximity to the wall,” John C. Bernal, associate director of veterinary resources and research support at the Southwest National Primate Research Center, told KSAT 12. “One of the baboons said ‘I am going to try to make this leap’” and jumped on top of the wall and out. “And once that occurs,” he said, “it’s a typical monkey see, monkey do, and the others follow.”
They ran across nearby Military Drive, but workers who tend to the animals spotted the baboons on top of the wall and alerted the “animal capture team,” according to the institute’s news release. The team took off in hot pursuit.
Two of the baboons were captured near the tree line along the fence, authorities told KSAT, and one was seen running along nearby Military Drive being chased down by the animal capture team.
“I see four guys clapping at the bushes,” Jannell Bouton, 26, told KSAT. “I really didn’t give it a second thought. I just went about driving and then all of a sudden this brown big mass pops out of the bushes.”
“Okay that’s a big dog,” she recalled thinking. “He was brown, he was furry. He was pretty big.”
The baboon, Bouton said, “stopped at one point, and he was kind of just looking. And these guys are frazzled. They are freaking out.”
“You could tell they were panicking because they didn’t want him to get hurt,” Bouton said, “but he wasn’t having it.”
While chasing the baboon along the street, the animal capture team used “verbal and hand signaling commands to corral the baboon to the tree line for its safety and efficient capture,” Bernal explained in the release. “Our team was ensuring the baboon was not hurt by traffic on Military Drive.”
All the baboons were captured within 20 to 30 minutes of leaving the enclosure. Veterinary staff attended to the three that managed to briefly escape, and “the baboons are doing well,” the release stated. The baboons were not used in any infectious disease research, according to a news release, and the animal capture team wore protective equipment for the safety of the animals.
The enclosure has been used for more than 35 years, according to the news release. The animal care team has removed the 55-gallon barrels from the enclosure “for further assessment and modification.” Bernal said the lab will probably continue using barrels in the enclosure — just smaller ones.
Bernal told KSAT the escape was a “very rare situation … unprecedented actually.”