Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Escapee wolf turns Hogle into a zoo

Talk of the Morning: Whiff of Freedom

By Michael N. Westley - The Salt Lake Tribune

Zoo patrons enjoying a sunny Mother's Day among Utah's premier collection of creatures were asked to cut the day short when a 70-pound gray wolf escaped from her pen around 3 p.m. The 8-year-old female named Maddie apparently scaled an 8-foot-tall wall and made her way through barbed wire strung along the top of the enclosure to win her freedom Sunday at Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo.

For more than an hour, Maddie darted behind trees and slunk around corners while zoo personnel worked to secure her. An escape protocol, which is practiced monthly and includes almost every member of the zoo's staff, was enforced immediately, said Assistant Director Kimberly Davidson. Those nearest Maddie were herded inside buildings while those on the opposite side of the 41-acre park were shuffled toward exits.

Shad Harper and Jennifer Morgan of South Weber were in the giraffe building with their two children when Maddie got loose. People began streaming into the building and were asked to stay inside for about 30 minutes, Harper said. Morgan said people were upset and waited a long time before they got any information. "What a crazy day," Morgan said.

Davidson said the zoo sold tickets to 6,671 visitors Sunday with about 4,500 of them still in the zoo when Maddie bolted. Visitors who were evacuated were invited to return another day using Sunday's ticket stubs. Those who couldn't return were issued full refunds, Davidson said.

Maddie was captured when she entered an underground tunnel, which zoo staff blocked so they could use a dart to tranquilize her. Maddie is a timid creature and posed no threat to zoo patrons during her romp, Davidson insisted. "She was terrified."

The wolf joined the 1,100 specimens of more than 250 species at Hogle Zoo about six years ago, said public relations coordinator Stacey Phillips. She was donated from a private owner and was placed with the zoo's other gray wolf, a male. Maddie appeared to suffer no injuries and was recovering well once she was returned to a secure enclosure.

Davidson said a "significant" escape, such as Maddie's Sunday, might happen once about every five years. Zoo officials relied on witness accounts about how Maddie got out of the pen. "Obviously, we're going to have to take a good look at that fence," Davidson said.

  • Salt Lake Tribune