Three baboons briefly escaped from a truck en route to a hospital in Sydney on Tuesday and roamed the streets, prompting a police response, huge reaction on social media and a subsequent investigation.
Authorities were transporting the male baboon and its two female companions to an animal research facility at a major hospital, the Royal Prince Alfred in Sydney’s inner west, so the male baboon could undergo a vasectomy, New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard said, per the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Hazzard confirmed the animals had been brought in from a colony in Wallacia in western Sydney, believed to be a facility housing baboons used for medical research, for treatment at the hospital.
He believed a failed lock on the truck or transport crate had resulted in the escape just as the animals arrived for the procedure.
Callers to 2GB radio station first brought the rogue baboons to light. A listener told incredulous host Ben Fordham that he looked out his sixth-floor window at the hospital and saw three baboons.
“Mate I’m deadset serious,” the caller said. “I just happened to gaze out at the carpark... and there were three baboons.”
A second caller, whose daughter was an occupational therapist at the hospital, called in to confirm that she’d just received a text from her daughter regarding the baboons at work. She said her daughter had “helped wrangle them.”
State police, who worked with handlers from Taronga Zoo, confirmed they had the situation under control and contained the animals a short time later.
The incident prompted amusement on Twitter, which was soon exchanged for concern over the welfare of the animals.
A Sydney Morning Herald investigation in 2016 revealed that several hospitals around Sydney had used baboons from the Wallacia colony for medical experiments.
NSW Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi shared a brief statement wishing the animals all the best on their bid for freedom.
Hazzard said baboons from the colony in Wallacia assisted in a “range of research programs” including for kidney disease and diabetes, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
He said this particular was not being transported for research, but was set to undergo the vasectomy procedure in order to allow it to live “in peace and harmony with his own family” with the rest of its troop.
“They don’t want him to continue breeding with the small troupe he’s in so, in order for him to stay, the decision was taken that he should have a vasectomy,” he said.
Ultimately, the procedure was not performed, and the animals were returned to their colony, ABC reported. The health minister has ordered an investigation from the research facility and NSW Health into how the animals managed to escape; the incident has sparked renewed scrutiny on the research facilities where the animals are housed.
UPDATE, Feb 28: A representative for the NSW National Health and Medical Research Council, which was previously identified as the organization believed to operating the colony, told HuffPost that it is no longer associated with the Wallacia National Baboon Colony. The organization’s last grant to the group was in 2018.