Zoos use fences to keep their animals from breaking out. But a wandering, wild black bear used a10-foot tall one at the Knoxville Zoo to break in.
On Monday night, the same day that a red panda was on the loose from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., a Knoxville zoo ranger spotted the young bear scaling a 10-foot fence topped with barbed wire on the zoo’s perimeter.
While zoos are always alert to keep their exotic animals safely inside their habitats, they rarely experience a wild animal the size of a bear wanting to get inside.
It was about midnight when a zoo ranger spotted a young black bear scaling the 10-foot-high chain-link and barbed wire of the zoo’s perimeter fence.
A neighbor had alerted the zoo that a bear had been seen in the Chilhowee Park area, zoo spokeswoman Tina Rolen said. The ranger went to the area and saw the creature, estimated to be about 150 pounds.
That’s when the bear scaled the fence into the zoo.
The ranger quickly called other zoo rangers and staff members, Rolen said.
The first thought was to check the zoo’s own group of four captive black bears which live in the natural habitat Black Bear Falls in another section of the park. Zookeepers quickly counted bear noses and discovered that none of their bears were out and about for an evening stroll.
So zoo rangers and staff members began an early morning search of the park’s 53 acres.
The zoo notified dispatchers for the Knoxville Police Department of the bear sighting. University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency wildlife officers were awakened to stand by in case they were needed.
But once the bear got into the zoo he or she made few stops. When zoo officials determined there was no roaming bear on the grounds, they opened the zoo.
Rolen said zoo staffers speculate the animal likely scaled a fence back out of the park, this time unseen.
While the zoo took the case of a wild animal rambling on its grounds seriously, Tuesday was a time for a few jokes.
Zoo Executive Director Lisa New said, ”Of course our first concern is to ensure the safety of our visitors and animals. We are also concerned about the welfare of our wandering bear, who hopefully has made his way to a more rural area.”
Then she quipped, “Of course, our Black Bear Falls is one of the top habitats in the country so maybe word has gotten out in the black bear community.”
Should the non-captive bear turn back up at the zoo, park officials joke they’ll waive its admission fee. After all, it already knows the way in.
Story distributed by the Scripps Howard News Service.