Chimpanzee’s makeshift fingerhold led to second escape in 3 years

On Sunday, a chimpanzee escaped from his enclosure at Honolulu Zoo. It’s the second time this has happened in three years.

We wanted to know how this happened again, and what changes the zoo will be making this time around.

Zoo officials fixed and smoothed out the wall that Puiwa was able to climb the first time he escaped, but they didn’t change everything.

Officials say Puiwa created a fingerhold to scale the back wall to get to the top. He managed to do so despite hot wires that form an electrical fence around the enclosure’s perimeter.

“It looked like he did something to crack chunks of concrete to get a fingerhold,” said assistant zoo director Linda Santos. “The concrete was laying in the habitat where he had gotten out.”

Officials made changes the last time Puiwa escaped three years ago.

“We redid the walls, smoothed it out, heightened it, but the area that he currently escaped from was not from that last modification,” said Santos. “We did look at the entire exhibit. This area was smoothed already. It’s just that he damaged it.”

Zoo officials say they inspect the chimpanzee exhibit every day. Now that Puiwa was able to get out again, officials are looking at heightening and strengthening the exhibit walls.

“We do know we have to repair the concrete. We are looking at heightening and creating more hot wire, and an overhang with that hot wire,” Santos said.

Puiwa is a 17-year-old male chimpanzee who is considered the skilled rock climber of the group.

“He’s a young teenage male, and by getting up at that height, he can taunt others in the exhibit and show his dominance. That’s probably all  he was doing was trying to assert himself,” Santos said. “For us, we learned that never underestimate the ability of a young chimp with that much energy.”

Now that he’s escaped a second time, we asked, what will happen to Puiwa?

“He is one of the males that we are looking at trading out for breeding with the SSP, the species survival plan,” Santos said. “The only reason he would be placed is because he’s a viable male that would be good for the gene pool of the species for conservation effort.”

Officials say his escape would not be a factor in their decision.

The chimpanzee exhibit is still closed and we don’t know long the chimps will be in their holding pens, where they are taken care of and entertained.

Zoo officials also could not tell us how much the repairs will cost.

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