(Aug. 29) — Visitors to Miami’s Jungle Island were treated to a scarily authentic subcontinental experience Saturday, when a Bengal tiger sprang from its pen at the tropical tourist attraction.
Hundreds of terrified guests ran for safety when the big cat, known as Mahesh, broke out of its enclosure. According to MSNBC, the 3-year-old tiger spent an hour enjoying its newfound freedom before being lured back into its traveling cage. Animal trainers managed to get Mahesh inside the box without the use of tranquilizers.
The park’s big cat problems started around noon, spokeswoman Ashley Serrate told the Miami Herald, when two trainers were carrying a gibbon named Watson past the tiger enclosure in a travel kennel. Unfortunately, the monkey’s kennel had a broken lock, and Watson escaped. Salivating at the sight of the tasty simian, Mahesh — who weighs around 500-600 pounds — bounded over the 14-foot fence that separates Jungle Island’s three cats from the public.
The park’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Jason Chatfield, disputed that account, telling the Herald that the gibbon had broken out of his own enclosure through a suspected combination of “mechanical breakdown” and “human error.” Exactly how Mahesh got free, though, still isn’t clear. The attraction’s three big cats — which include a liger and a white tiger — have been confined to a “night kennel,” a hurricane-proof cement structure, while the park investigates.
Although park officials said guests were safely and calmly corralled into a barn area following the escape, visitors told a different story. “We were really scared. There were people crying,” Miami mom Dorothy Evans told the Herald, adding that people knocked each other down as they sprinted toward the shelter.
“People were running for their lives,” Larry Rhodes, 46, of Pompano Beach, told the Sun Sentinel.
Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Ignatius Carroll told the Herald that four people received minor injuries in the stampede — including an unnamed mother who was “running, trying to get somewhere safe, and fell on top of” her 15-month old baby, who suffered some scratches. Another guest was taken to a Miami hospital after suffering a panic attack.
Watson the gibbon was recaptured and placed back in his enclosure.
Jorge Pino, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the park would open again on Sunday. “You know, people still go to Sea World,” he told the Herald, referring to the Orlando center where a killer whale attacked and killed a trainer earlier this year. “People still go to zoos. I don’t see why they should not.”
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