Bear that escaped zoo had climbed trees with electric wires


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A young black bear that escaped its Ohio zoo enclosure by scaling a fence with electrified wires previously climbed trees wrapped with “hot wires” intended to jolt animals as a deterrent, according to an inspection report.

The exhibit wasn’t open to the public when the female cub, called Joanie, scaled a 12½ foot fence with an angled top and got into a viewing area on June 25, the Columbus Zoo said. Visitors in nearby areas were evacuated as the bear was corralled and sedated. No one was hurt.

It happened as a zookeeper was monitoring how the roughly year-old cub — named for rocker Joan Jett — and another female cub were interacting with their new enclosure, which is the zoo’s procedure when putting animals into new habitats. The keeper responded appropriately in trying to deter the bear’s climbing with verbal commands and by shaking the fence, notifying zoo staff and initiating visitor evacuation procedures, according to the zoo.

“Other than the fact that a baby bear breached an exhibit that had been holding bears for decades and nobody had gotten out of, and so took everybody by surprise, everything else went completely according to protocol,” zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said Tuesday.

The cubs, which had been rescued from the wild, had been introduced to the enclosure three days earlier. They’d been persistent in climbing on the trees in the enclosure despite existing “hot wires,” so the facility already had twice added more of those deterrent elements, according to a June 27 inspection report made public this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The trees didn’t provide a way out of the enclosure, but keepers wanted the animals to stay out of the treetops so they didn’t get stuck, Peters said.

The inspection report said the zoo must ensure the enclosure is constructed in a way that protects and contains the bears before putting them back into the exhibit.

The enclosure hasn’t yet reopened but has been modified since Joanie’s escape. The zoo added hard, thick, plastic-style sheeting near the top of the fence, below the overhang section, that would block a climbing cub from getting a foothold, Peters said. It also added more “hot wire” to the fence and collared the trees with metal to prevent the cubs from climbing into the treetops.

Joanie and the second cub, Stevie, who also was sedated to be moved after Joanie’s escape, have been in a holding area and are doing well, Peters said.