Rounding Up the Different Animals that Have Escaped Toronto Zoos

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Rounding Up the Different Animals that Have Escaped Toronto Zoos

Seriously, how did they lose a gorilla?

Photo by Jeremy Gilbert from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Jeremy Gilbert from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


The people of Toronto love a good animal caper.

When Toronto police tweeted Tuesday that two female capybaras were on the lam from their pen at High Park Zoo, it was really just history repeating itself. Almost exactly a year ago, an adventurous peacock quit its cage at the same facility, causing a stir in the local neighbourhood and a sensation on the Internet.

As word of the giant rodents’ departure spread, social media became eager for an exciting chase and, hopefully, a happy ending.

Frustratingly, however, the big rodents have proven surprisingly elusive, and there have been no confirmed sightings of the pair. In an effort to sniff out the furry fugitives, a tame capybara was brought in from an animal shelter in Etobicoke yesterday, so far to limited success.

As the search continues, here’s a look back at other animal adventures in Toronto’s past.

The High Park Peacock

Almost exactly a year ago to the day, another High Park resident made a well-publicized bid for freedom. The four-foot peacock, who lived at the park’s zoo with eight peahens and four other peacocks, took flight last May, leaping between rooftops near Roncesvalles Avenue. The colourful blue bird was safely apprehended later that day, but not before becoming an Internet star.

The High Park Caiman

It started with a video. Rumours of a strange alligator-like reptile lurking in High Park pond began circulating when local resident Teghan Stadnyk posted video evidence to YouTube. City animal control workers, reptile experts, and police marine officers waded into the reedy water and grabbed the creature—a little caiman—before handing it over to a sanctuary. The origin of the reptile was never discovered.

The IKEA Monkey

Perhaps the strangest of Toronto’s recent animal adventures was the December, 2012 discovery of a lost, confused, but surprisingly well-dressed rhesus macaque monkey in a North York parking lot. It turned out the monkey, named Darwin and clad in a tiny Shearling coat, was an illegal pet owned by local woman, Yasmin Nakhuda. At time of writing, Darwin is spending his post-social media fame days at an animal sanctuary in Sunderland, Ontario.

The Metro Zoo Wolves

toronto zoo wolf escape

Toronto Zoo officials find vandals have released a pack of wolves from their enclosure, Globe and Mail, December 16, 1985.

Thirteen Arctic wolves split their enclosure at the Metro Zoo (now Toronto Zoo) in December, 1985 after vandals cut a mesh fence. Zoo board chairman Ronald Barbaro called the incident “a form of terrorist act” after several of the animals were spotted in an apple orchard near Finch Avenue East and Little’s Road. A Zoo spokesman took the escape a little less seriously. “We’ve had them in sight the whole time … they were having a great time. It was just sort of the boys night out for them.”

The Metro Zoo Gorilla

toronto zoo gorilla escape

The Globe and Mail warns zoo enclosures designed to keep in baby animals are dangerously inadequate now the creatures have grown, September 16, 1977.

It didn’t seem to make headlines at the time, but the escape of a gorilla from an enclosure at the Metro Zoo proved to be an important wake-up call. According to a Globe and Mail report a year after the incident, the enclosures housing some of the most dangerous animals were hopelessly inadequate. “The cheetahs can escape any time they want to,” said Zoo board member Dr. Avery Gillick. Luckily, the escaped gorilla focused its attention on ripping up plants before it was apprehended.

“The Prince of Whales”

toronto whale

Harry Piper’s dead whale became one of the first animal sensations in Toronto when it went on display in 1882. Globe, March 20, 1882.

It wasn’t an escape (of course,) but the corpse of a whale on display at the Zoological Gardens in 1882 was likely the first viral animal sensation in Toronto. The 53-foot long specimen, brought to the city by impresario Harry Piper, was propped up on bricks beneath a tent near the corner of Front and York Streets. Twenty-five children from a local infants home crammed inside its mouth, according to the Globe. Eventually, the rotting body was discarded, but not before Piper made a mint on admission.

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