Chimpanzee exhibit closed as zoo officials investigate escape

Honolulu Zoo

The chimpanzee exhibit at Honolulu Zoo is closed indefinitely as zoo officials look into Tuesday’s escape.

Zoo officials now say the 15-year-old male chimp, Puiwa, got out just after 4 p.m., meaning he was loose for about an hour before staff shot him with a tranquilizer gun.

Puiwa had climbed a wall and was just on the edge of an area where visitors were walking, officials said. Someone spotted him and alerted zoo staff.

Officials say a perimeter area surrounding the exhibit was immediately closed off while staff members ushered visitors to secure locations on the grounds.

Photo of Puiwa, courtesy Honolulu Zoo
Photo of Puiwa, courtesy Honolulu Zoo

Director Jeff Wilkinson said when Puiwa was shot by by the tranquilizer gun, “he decided to go back into his exhibit at that time.”

Wilkinson said the escape could have seriously put some of the visitors in danger and thanked the staff for acting quickly enough to prevent that from happening.

He also said a full audit will be conducted to determine exactly how Puiwa escaped and, until then, the exhibit will remain closed.

Yellow caution tape blocks the entrance to the exhibit and all eight of the zoo’s chimps are being kept in their sleeping quarters as officials piece together what happened.

Wilkinson could not estimate exactly how long the audit would take but said he believes adjustments will have to be made to make the enclosure safer.

“Aside from maybe one weakness or two weaknesses that we haven’t identified yet, which hopefully will be something that will be more easily corrected than a whole full redesign of the exhibit,” he said.

Experts say the escape is not surprising. Chimps are highly intelligent and very powerful — five to six times stronger than humans — and have a desire for adventure.

At 15 years old, Puiwa is the youngest of the chimps. Mike Pietrusewsky, an anthropology professor at University of Hawaii, says it’s fortunate that Puiwa was still young and not fully mature, or he would have been even more aggressive.

“They also can rebel against humans. They can have things that set them off,” he said.

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