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Curiosity Blamed In Orangutan Escape

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Published:   |   Updated: June 1, 2013 at 01:33 PM

TAMPA - Luna Bella is like most 10-year-old youngsters: curious to the point of getting into trouble.

And that's likely what happened when the 85-pound orangutan hopped out of her enclosure at Busch Gardens' new Jungala exhibit Saturday, an orangutan expert says.

"If they see a hole in the fence, if the opportunity is there, they will take it," said Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach in New York. "Generally, they don't do much. They just go to the other side of the fence or wall and just stay there."

Zimmerman is familiar with Luna Bella. He said she was born in the Houston Zoo to an inattentive mother. So Luna Bella was placed with Cheyenne, a surrogate mother.

However, Luna Bella became accustomed to being cared for by humans, he said.

"She had exposure to humans at an early age so she got a jump start on intelligence," Zimmerman said.

Luna Bella, a Bornean orangutan, scaled the exhibit's 12-foot barrier. She was coaxed into her night quarters by keepers almost immediately, and no one was injured.

"They generally are peaceful, so there is hardly ever a fear of them being violent," Zimmerman said.

It was the second primate escape in the Tampa Bay area in a month. The first was at Polk County's fledgling Safari Wild preserve in April, when 15 patas monkeys swam a moat and scaled a wall to gain their freedom. Thirteen of those monkeys remain at large.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators were expected to visit Busch Gardens this week to find out what happened with Luna Bella, spokesman Gary Morse said Monday.

Jungala is open, but the area where the escape occurred is empty, said Glenn Young, vice president of zoological operations at Busch Gardens. Orangutans are still part of the experience, but on the other side of the exhibit, he said.

Park officials are examining the structure to see what changes must be made to prevent another orangutan escape, Young said.

Luna Bella, who has been at Busch Gardens for more than three years, was able to figure it out. She was on a platform near a viewing window and simply grabbed the outside edge of the window and swung herself up onto the corner of the building.

"She looked like she wanted to come down, to get back into the habitat but didn't know how to navigate that," Young said.


Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or kmorelli@tampatrib.com.

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