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Rhinoceros escapes pen at Omaha Zoo, prompting Code: NPR red alert


Jontu, an Indian rhino, is shown here in 2011, wandering around his enclosure at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb.

Nati Harnik / AP


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Nati Harnik / AP

Rhinoceros escapes pen at Omaha Zoo, prompting Code: NPR red alert

Jontu, an Indian rhino, is shown here in 2011, wandering around his enclosure at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb.

Nati Harnik / AP

Staff and visitors at an Omaha zoo were recently a little excited when a nearly 5,000-pound rhino named Jontu walked out of its enclosure unnoticed.

Workers at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium found the 13-year-old Indian one-horned rhino behind his barn, calmly munching on grass.

“Where he was, there was a ton of grass. And he was like a giant lawn mower. He just grabbed a bite of the grass. He wiggled a bit and took another bite,” Dan Cassidy, vice -President of the animal management zoo, NPR said.

Jontu shares his exhibit area with Father David’s deer, which ate all the grass inside, Cassidy said. “The grass is always greener on the other side. It was definitely for him,” he added.

Quickly, a worker called a “code red,” which is the zoo’s jargon for a dangerous animal escape.

The zoo was open the day Jontu escaped last week, but Cassidy said the rhino did not visit a public space and there was never a danger to visitors.

Still, workers told some visitors near Jontu’s enclosure to take shelter in place and evacuated others to a more distant part of the zoo.

Then came the big question: how do you get a two-and-a-half-ton ungulate back into its enclosure?

“There are a lot of things to consider, so our top pick is always the safest to just try to bring them back,” Cassidy said. “With some of our other animals, you know, you can use people to get around them and close the gap to get them where you want them to go. But in this case, we had to use vans.”

Vets, guards and even maintenance staff converged on the site. They surrounded Jontu with trucks and tried to lure the big guy inside with some treats and fruit.

Finally, with the entrance in sight, the promise of fruit and the scent of his fellow rhinos in the air, Jontu returned to his enclosure. The staff closed the door behind him.

Cassidy thinks Jontu came out through a door that was not properly closed. He attributes the success of the operation to the fact that zoo staff perform numerous exercises to train for emergencies, including animal escapes.

“Do the exercises. They really pay off. It comes more naturally to you after training,” he said.

“Sometimes you question their value, but like yesterday, everyone knew what to do and did exactly what they were supposed to do. And it ended very well. The animal was safe. The audience was there. safe. And he didn’t destroy. all the vehicles, so that was a plus. “