Gorilla Escapes Zoo Enclosure, Celebrates Brief Freedom Chugging Sugary Syrup

Kumbuka is the hero we need.

When 400-pound gorilla Kumbuka escaped from his enclosure at the London Zoo on Oct. 13, we can only imagine how scared some people were. The zoo was put on lockdown and armed officials showed up, ready to contend with any mayhem.

But Kumbuka wasn’t looking for any trouble. Apparently, he was looking for delicious fruity syrup, according to a Wednesday blog post by the institution’s zoological director David Field.

“Staff raised the alarm that triggered our standard escape response, while Kumbuka briefly explored the zookeeper area next door to his den, where he opened and drank five litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash,” Field wrote. (“Squash” is British English for a type of water-diluted fruit concentrate.)

"This pepper sucks compared to pure, undiluted sugar."
"This pepper sucks compared to pure, undiluted sugar."
Oli Scarff via Getty Images

This is a gorilla after our own hearts. In fact, fellow primate and Huffington Post reporter Andy Campbell can recount a similar experience from his own childhood.

“My mom was really strict about the sweets so I snuck downstairs one night and chugged half a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s,” he said. “Never did it again.”

Field’s blog post also served to clear up some of the details of Kumbuka’s escape. Much-publicized footage showed Kumbuka banging against the glass around his enclosure in response to rude zoo visitors who were taunting him. The Daily Mail reported that Kumbuka smashed through that glass to escape. But Field wrote that’s not what actually happened:

Kumbuka was called into his private night quarters for his dinner at around 5.10 p.m. on Thursday 13th October. As a big silverback male with a matching appetite, he eats separately from the females - otherwise they wouldn’t get a look in.

Unfortunately the door to his den had not been properly secured and a secondary security door had not yet been locked.

We’ve since established that Kumbuka made an opportunistic escape from his unlocked den into the staff-only service corridor where a zookeeper was working.

Thanks to the incredibly close bond and relationship shared by the zookeeper and Kumbuka, the zookeeper was able to continually reassure Kumbuka, talking to him calmly and in the same light-hearted tone he would always use, as he removed himself from the area.

Zoo staff contained Kumbuka in the staff-only corridor, which is where the primate partook of his fruity indulgence, according to Field. They then tranquilized him and transported him back to his den.

The amount of concentrated syrup Kumbuka consumed could have potentially caused some serious digestive troubles, primatologist Phyllis Lee told the BBC. Field, however, made no mention of the silverback experiencing any ill effects, and Lee told the BBC that a gorilla would likely spill a lot of the syrup in the process.

But while Kumbuka’s escape was apparently not the terrifying chaos that some outlets reported, the video of zoo-goers apparently harassing Kumbuka has raised real criticisms of the way humans treat animals in captivity.

Animal advocacy group Born Free said the footage of visitors “shrieking and shouting” at Kumbuka served to show how little “educational” value zoos actually have.

And renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough condemned the visitors in a Monday interview with Piers Morgan, saying that animals like great apes should not be subjected to the total lack of privacy that zoos force upon them.

“If the people were respectful that would be something,” he said, “but sometimes visitors to zoos aren’t respectful and they start shrieking or waving their arms in order to get the poor gorilla to do something and you may think, ‘Oh they’re just animals.’ They are not just animals, they are related to us.”

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