Rusty the Panda, the Egyptian Cobra & More Escaped Zoo Animals

In a scene straight out of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, two chimpanzees escaped their home in Las Vegas on Thursday and ran amok in the neighborhood. From the Bronx cobra to an elephant in Manhattan, see more tales of animals on the loose.

Alyssa Borek/Bronx Zoo, @nationalzoo/twitter, Francoise De Mulder/Roger Viollet

Alyssa Borek/Bronx Zoo, @nationalzoo/twitter, Francoise De Mulder/Roger Viollet

Animals on the loose

Rusty the red panda was found Monday afternoon about 20 hours after disappearing from the National Zoo. From the Egyptian cobra who escaped in the Bronx in 2011 to the Central Park zoo breakout, see other animals who have spent some time on the wild side.


Rusty Takes Washington, 2013

Rusty must have been channeling his inner cat when he climbed 20-30 feet up into a tree in Adams Morgan, a residential neighborhood northwest of the Washington, D.C., Smithsonian National Zoo—and then escaped from the zoo. The 11-month-old red panda was reported missing by the zoo around 8 a.m. on Monday, June 24, having last been seen by a zookeeper during evening feedings. Pamela Baker-Masson, the zoo’s spokeswoman, explained that the zoo was prepared for every possible explanation for Rusty’s disappearance—including panda theft and Rusty’s death. Even with such dramatic theories afloat, zookeepers remained optimistic that Rusty, a nocturnal omnivore with a healthy appetite for D.C. foliage, would be found sleeping in a local tree after gorging all night on the choicest leaves. They were in for a shock when a passerby spotted Rusty near 20th and Biltmore streets  in, beyond the zoo’s gates, ending Rusty’s time out on the town. Next time, try the White House, Rusty—President Obama could probably use a friendly face right about now.

Marcos Welsh / Corbis

Kangaroo Escape 2012

German motorists were surprised to see kangaroos hopping near the road. Their summer 2012 escape wasn't hindered by the two fences surrounding their enclosure in Rheinböllen Wildlife Park: a wild boar destroyed one and a fox dug a hole under the other, and the three marsupials made a jump for it. But they didn't get too far: Jack, Mick, and Skippy were caught only nine miles from home.

Steve Marcus / Reuters

Buddy and C.J., July 2012

Two pet chimpanzees escaped from their owners’ home in northwest Las Vegas in July 2012, then roamed the neighborhood, where they banged on cars and frightened the neighbors—but stay away from the casinos. One was shot and killed by a police officer. The surviving chimp, named C.J., escaped again on Aug. 12, but was captured and will be sent to live at an Oregon animal sanctuary, Chimps Inc. Her name, by the way, was short for Calamity Jane.

Alyssa Borek / Bronx Zoo

The Egyptian Cobra

According to numerous reports, a deadly Egyptian cobra escaped from its enclosure in the Bronx Zoo on in March 2011, sending typically edgy New York City residents into panic mode. One venomous bite from the 20-inch-long snake, which weighs less than three ounces, can kill a full-grown elephant in less than three hours. Although zoo staffers say they believe the snake is hiding out somewhere in the Reptile House, Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny said the process of catching the reptile may take several weeks. "Right now, it's the snake's game," Breheny said Monday. "At this point, it's just like fishing; you put the hook in the water and wait. Our best strategy is patience, allowing her time to come out of hiding." The folks at the Bronx Zoo might want to check Twitter for possible leads, where a (fake) Twitter handle for the “Bronx Zoo's Cobra” has been terrorizing Manhattan since Monday. The account already has 50,000 followers (and counting), with hilarious status updates like "Enjoying a cupcake @magnoliabakery. This is going straight to my hips. Oh, wait. I don't have hips. Yesss! #snakeonthetown."

Getty Images

Nellie the Elephant

Whoa, Nellie! In a scene straight out of Jumanji, back on Nov. 28, 1908, a circus elephant named Nellie was rehearsing the bass drum at the Hippodrome Theater but, after getting in a squabble with a clown's pig, stormed out of the theater and onto New York City streets, taking 43rd Street to Fifth Avenue. "People above 43rd Street stopped and rushed back the other way as she swung around the corner and down; vehicles switched off to the curbs or put on full speed ahead; plunging horses dragged carriages upon the sidewalks; pedestrians dived into the nearest shops," said The New York Times’s description of the event. The escaped elephant went about a mile, wandering through several backyards and even stepping through the front door of a five-story brick tenement, before being captured at 34th Street and Third Avenue when she fell for a trap involving a loaf of bread. The story was so popular it (possibly) inspired the 1956 ballad "Nellie the Elephant" by Ralph Butler and Peter Hart.

Todd Maisel, NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

A Tiger in Harlem

In a strange event that inspired an episode of Law & Order—and has since become the stuff of urban legend—Antoine Yates called the police to say he had been badly bitten by a pit bull in October 2003. But when he was checked out at Harlem Hospital, the bite marks looked far too big to have come from a dog. The next day, police got a random tip that an animal was on the loose in the city, and on the following day, another call directed police to a disheveled apartment inside the Drew Hamilton Houses at 141st Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem. Hearing loud roars, police sent a sniper to scale the side of the building and fire several tranquilizer darts to subdue a 350-pound Bengal tiger. Yes, a 2-year-old tiger named Ming, along with an approximately five-foot long caiman reptile, were found in Yates's apartment, although it's not certain they had been living there. "This is an only-in-New York story," said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.


Monkeys on the Loose

One of the best-known species of Old World monkeys, Rhesus monkeys are often used nationally in medical and biological experiments, as well as numerous NASA space expeditions. Back in October 1935, "The chattery Rhesus monkey colony at Frank Buck's jungle camp on the Sunrise Highway between Massapequa and Amityville, Long Island, near New York; gave no warning recently that it was aquiver with impending revolution," wrote a special correspondent of The New York Times. About 150 out of 570 monkeys, weighing between five and 12 pounds and valued at $50 each, scaled the park walls and escaped, causing a panic among the local townsfolk. According to the aforementioned newspaper story, "The alleged leader was unanimously selected as having been an agile creature called Capone, who might have been suspected because of his name, but apparently was not."

Getty Images

Iguana Panic

The Egyptian cobra isn't the first reptile to wreak havoc on the Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo. Back in 1908, just one week after arriving from Cuba, a pair of giant, four-foot-long iguanas escaped from their cages in the Reptile House, and, despite being relatively harmless and not poisonous, they caused quite a stir. "The iguanas are about the most terrifying looking of all the reptiles in the Bronx Park Zoo … Their wicked looking, beadlike eyes are encased in hard, bony skin, something like alligator hide, and their heads are arrow-shaped … Altogether they are quite ugly enough to strike terror to anyone," wrote The New York Times. After the iguanas left their cages, the animal handler approached the iguanas, who first lashed out at the keeper, before darting out the door of the Reptile House. It took several guards armed with stout clubs—similar to a policeman's nightstick—to chase the iguanas back into the Reptile House, and then the guards proceeded to chase the reptiles for an hour inside, before trapping them in a burlap sack.

Wallace G. Levison

The Central Park Zoo Escape of 1874

In 1867, James Gordon Bennett took over as publisher of the New York Herald, one of the most popular newspapers at the time. According to rumors, Bennett boasted regularly about his immense influence over New York City dwellers, and allegedly made a bet that he could keep the entire city indoors for a day. So, on Nov. 9, 1874, the Herald's headline screamed "AWFUL CALAMITY: A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death." The article, which ran more than 10,000 words and occupied six full columns, claimed that a large number of wild animals had escaped from the Central Park Zoo, wreaking havoc on the streets of Manhattan. According to reports, the carnage left 27 people dead and another 200 injured, and the militia was called in to handle the situation. Naturally, most New Yorkers reportedly stayed indoors on Nov. 9 thanks to the elaborate hoax.