Dallas Zoo opens safer exhibit


DALLAS (AP) – Two years after a gorilla leaped out of his enclosure and attacked three people before being shot dead, the Dallas Zoo is reopening part of the exhibit with new safeguards.

The zoo spent $2.2 million to renovate the exhibit, including higher walls topped with electrified wire. Half the exhibit opened Saturday; the full exhibit opens in June.

Jabari, a western lowland gorilla, jumped over 12-foot walls and, during the roughly 40 minutes he was on the loose, the 13-year-old animal bit a toddler and two others before police killed him.

“You don’t ever get past anything like that – it’s such a vivid memory – but we have certainly used it as a springboard to make a lot of changes,” said zoo director Rick Buickerood.

The escape resulted in a nationwide rethinking of gorilla exhibits. A cooperative that manages gorilla populations at more than 200 U.S. zoos rewrote gorilla care and housing guidelines.

Dallas Zoo officials conducted a 3-month investigation and found that Jabari got a running start and sailed over a 12-foot-wide trench, clearing the wall and an electrical wire atop it.

Some experts speculate Jabari may have been doing a “display run,” a showy charge that younger males perform for females or other audiences. Others say he could have been motivated by fear, anger or desire to breed.

Zoo officials could not find evidence of human error, such as open doors, or any objects that could have aided his escape.

The renovations raised the enclosure’s walls to 15 feet, Buickerood said. Kimberly Davidson, assistant director of the Utah Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, said the Dallas Zoo’s walls are now taller than any other open-air gorilla exhibit in the country.

Boulders and shrubs serve as speed bumps to prevent gorillas from executing a running jump. Electrified wire, disguised as foliage, lines the tops of the walls as an added deterrent.

The renovation also added higher vantage points and glassed-in viewing areas where visitors can interact with the zoo’s four remaining gorillas. Zoo workers believe more contact between humans and gorillas will help people understand the animals are gentle.

Senior keeper Keith Zdrojewski, who trained Jabari for four years, said the 340-pound gorilla probably wanted to see the outside world but panicked after his escape. Jabari could have easily killed onlookers, he said, but instead bit and snatched at them to assert his dominance, typical behavior for a gorilla.

Zoo officials will plant a tree in the exhibit this weekend to commemorate Jabari.

Even with the improvements, officials said they cannot promise a gorilla will not escape again.

“We all think it was a fluke thing, but in this business, you expect the unexpected,” Buickerood said. “You never get complacent.”