Busch Gardens orangutan tastes freedom, briefly

TAMPA — A 10-year-old Bornean orangutan escaped from her new exhibit at Busch Gardens for nearly an hour Saturday before she was recaptured.

Luna Bella, who weighs about 85 pounds, climbed up the outside edge of a visitor viewing window in the park's new Jungala exhibit and then onto the roof of the exhibit about 6 p.m.

Caretakers were able to lure her back about 7:20 p.m. with apples, carrots and vanilla ice cream.

Glenn Young, vice president of zoological operations, said at a late Saturday news conference that part of the exhibit will remain closed until the park can ensure the escape won't be repeated.

"The incident had the best possible outcome as a result of our training and procedures," Young said.

He credited the relationship between the orangutan, Luna Bella, and four caretakers for the capture.

The new Jungala exhibit is a $40-million home for a dozen tigers, six orangutans and assorted gibbons and flying fox bats.

The theme park reported the escape to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Wildlife commission Lt. Steve DeLacure said officers were on the scene late Saturday and would return today to continue the investigation.

Theme park visitor David Conyers said he saw the orangutan standing on a low-slung roof just before park employees ushered visitors out.

"It didn't seem particularly perturbed or anything; it was just kind of moving along," said Conyers, who works as a copy editor at the St. Petersburg Times.

Young said Luna Bella did not come into contact with any guests during her escape.

While the 6-week-old Jungala exhibit was immediately closed after Luna Bella's escape, the larger park remained opened Saturday until its normal closing time of 7:30 p.m., Young said.

Jungala was designed partly with orangutans in mind.

It contains rope hammocks, a special tree house, and overhead ropes stretching across the 4-acre exhibit for orangutans.

Young said Luna Bella was brought to Busch Gardens 3 1/2 years ago, "from another zoological facility."

He said Luna Bella didn't get far during her escape.

Her climb amounted to about 12 feet vertically. From there, she traveled along a roof and a wooden perimeter fence for 60 to 70 feet, Young said.

At the time, she could have roamed anywhere in Jungala, he said.

"The animal stayed calm throughout this whole incident," Young said. Compared to other orangutans in exhibit, "she has a very strong relationship and very strong bond with her caretakers," Young said.

The western portion of Jungala will remain closed until Busch Gardens can determine how to prevent further escapes, Young said. Jungala's six orangutans will be kept in their night quarters.

Busch Gardens orangutan tastes freedom, briefly 05/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:07am]

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