TAMPA — For the second time in as many weeks, an orangutan escaped an enclosure at Busch Gardens on Friday afternoon, causing a mild panic inside the theme park and a sensation on social media.
Luna the orangutan climbed a tree, fell and lumbered about for much of her brief flight of freedom, parts of it caught on video by visitors. Park workers evacuated the area where the ape roamed before hitting her with a tranquilizer dart and returning her to her enclosure.
"This afternoon, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay moved guests safely out of the Stanleyville area of the park when a female orangutan was outside of her habitat," the park said in a statement. "The animal care team responded immediately and the animal is back safely and securely in its habitat without incident.
"The safety of our guests, employees and animals is our No. 1 priority."
The park did not say for how long Luna was loose, but Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse said the animal was returned to its habitat by 6:30 p.m.
Another orangutan, a juvenile male, escaped from its enclosure in the Jungala area of the park shortly before closing on June 16. It was lured back to its enclosure by park workers, also without incident.
Jason Mayhew, an Orlando resident who runs the website orlandofunandfood.com, was among those evacuated from an animal show at nearby Stanleyville Theater on Friday.
Things got a bit tense, he said, but park workers were forthcoming and did their best to keep visitors calm.
"They were stalling and stalling," Mayhew said. "Finally, someone said due to safety concerns, they had to clear the entire theater. People looked a little panicky, but everyone kept their composure."
FWC workers planned to investigate the incident, Morse said.
It was Luna's second successful escape, said park spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka. In 2008, the ape, then called Luna Bella and described as 10 years old and 85 pounds in newspaper accounts, scaled a 12-foot wall to get out of her exhibit at the park.
To resolve that incident, twenty-five caretakers came within 50 to 100 feet of Luna and guided her back using carrots, apples and vanilla ice cream.
Bianca Guzman, 19, was not among those taking out their camera phones to capture the moment on Friday. Instead, she and her family were on the hunt for something else: a refund for their tickets.
She was in a restaurant with her family when they heard an announcement saying the park was on lockdown. Guzman, the daughter of an active duty member of the U.S. Army, just moved to Florida two weeks ago from South Korea.
Between Luna's escapades in Tampa and the recent fatal alligator attack at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Guzman said Florida is already starting to freak her out. She'll attend the University of South Florida this fall.
"There's a lot of crazy stuff going on," she said. "It's just a little nerve-wracking knowing that it seems like a lot of these events are going on at the same time."
Jordan Beauchamp, 19, of Bradenton had come to Tampa for the day to go to Busch Gardens with her brother and parents.
After hearing about the loose ape, she and her brother met their parents in the food court in the Pantopia area near Falcon's Fury.
"We were sitting down, and all the sudden they just rolled down the big door and locked us in. A bunch of people were asking the lady who worked there and she said it was an orangutan," Beauchamp said. "Then they opened the doors, and a few workers came down the aisles screaming 'Everybody out, everybody out.' They seemed a little freaked. People were pointing us which way to go, and they wouldn't let anyone go anywhere else."
Times staff writers Kathryn Varn, Ron Brackett and Christopher Spata contributed to this report.