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Busch Gardens to fix Jungala exhibit escape route

TAMPA — Busch Gardens will fix a design flaw that let a 10-year-old orangutan named Luna Bella climb out of her enclosure Saturday at the Jungala exhibit.

Park officials will seal the escape route at the 6-week-old habitat and any other potential ones that come up in staff brainstorming sessions.

"We'll take our time and get this right," said Glenn Young, vice president of zoo operations.

Half the park's orangutan exhibit is open. The rest remains closed until crews flatten a half-inch stainless steel ledge on a viewing area window frame.

That was all Luna Bella needed to climb the 12-foot wall, grab the edge of a 5-foot overhang and flip her 85 pounds onto the roof. Orangutans have two thumbs on each hand, providing grasping power for vertical climbs.

From the roof, she climbed down to a fence, leaving a 5-foot drop to the sidewalk and freedom — although she would face tall perimeter fences for both Jungala and Busch Gardens.

Trainers watched the whole 40-minute episode, quickly cleared the public from the area and deployed 25 animal caretakers — some of them armed — within 50 to 100 feet.

Four caretakers who handle the park's six orangutans monitored Luna Bella's calm behavior, concluding she was hunting for a way back. Using ice cream and carrots, they guided the vegetarian to her backstage home.

Lessons learned?

"Never underestimate an orangutan," Young said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating, but already found no wrongdoing, spokesman Gary Morse said.

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Busch Gardens to fix Jungala exhibit escape route 05/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 2:32pm]
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