10 Frightening Zoo Stories That Will Make You Want to Visit a Museum Instead

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Hate them or love them, zoos are about as close as most of us will ever get to experiencing the animal world without actually going on safari. A trip to the zoo usually means a day of fun, learning something new, and seeing some amazing animals.  However, sometimes things can take a drastic turn, and a day at the zoo can quickly turn into a real nightmare.

Here are 10 scary zoo stories that will make you consider a visit to the museum instead.

Image Credit: DALL·E 3.

1. Baby Elephant & Instructor

In 2012, a regular day at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo turned into a harrowing ordeal for zookeeper Lucy Melo when she was nearly crushed to death by a two-year-old male elephant. 

Melo was teaching the Asian elephant named Pathi Harn to wash him in a barn in public view when he attacked her. “I asked for one simple final behaviour. He offered me a slightly different behaviour than the one I had asked,” Melo said in a statement at the time  “I asked him again for the correct version. When he did not respond, I sensed a behavioural change in him and realised he was thinking of challenging me.”

Pathi Harn reportedly raised his trunk and shoved the zookeeper against one of the metal bollards. 

“His trunk on my chest took my breath away, which made it impossible for me to talk and tell him to stop,” Melo said. Luckily, other zookeepers intervened and she was taken to intensive care. Melo suffered severe injuries but has recovered since. 

As for Pathi Harn, he was relocated to Taronga Dubbo Western Plains Zoo in 2015. Over the years, he has grown significantly, and thankfully, there have been no further reports of aggressive incidents involving him since that fateful day.

Image Credit: WEAZ 73 / Flickr.

2. The Lioness Nyanga & the Retired Zookeeper

Coworkers heard Joe Ramonetha’s cries and screams and rushed to help, but it was too late. In 2012, Ramonetha, 63, came out of retirement to tend to lions at Parys Zoo Farm, a breeding area for Johannesburg Zoo. The zookeeper, with more than 40 years of experience working with animals, was feeding an 11-year-old lioness named Nyanga, also known as “witch doctor.” Minutes later, Ramonetha encountered the lioness wandering in a hallway, typically inaccessible to animals, due to an unsecured gate left open. Ramonetha was found on the floor, bleeding from the neck, and died en route to the hospital. The lioness was sent to an animal sanctuary soon after the tragic incident.

Image Credit: Edwin_Butter / iStock.

3. The Gorilla That Became a Meme

In 2016, Harambe the gorilla became an unexpected internet sensation, but for all the wrong reasons. It all started when a three-year-old boy sneaked past his mother and protective fences and ended up in the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. 

Harambe, a 450-pound silverback gorilla, began dragging the toddler around, causing panic among onlookers. In the chaos, a zoo worker made the decision to shoot and kill Harambe to ensure the boy’s safety. Fortunately, the child was not seriously injured, but the incident was captured in a widely viewed video on YouTube

. Many argued that the gorilla was unfairly killed as it was actually trying to protect the child, but the zoo’s decision-makers were concerned about the seemingly aggressive manner in which he dragged the boy across the enclosure. 

Image Credit: Mark Dumont / Flickr.

4. The story of Omar, Jippie & Winnie

Zoo visitors screamed in panic as three rare white Bengal tigers named Omar, Jippie and Winnie mauled , a 32-year-old man, after he jumped into their enclosure at Singapore Zoo in 2008. 

Horrified onlookers yelled at the man to jump into the nearby water, but to no avail. The man was fatally injured despite efforts by zoo staff. To this day, nobody knows why he jumped into the tigers’ area. 

According to reports, he had 90 external injuries, including fractures of the skull, neck, and ribs. The incident was ruled a suicide by the state coroner in 2009. 

None of the tigers were euthanized after the incident.

Image Credit: Ronald Tan.

5. The Shoushan Zoo

In 2007, a chimpanzee at the Shoushan Zoo in Taiwan bit off part of a boy’s finger. Soon after, a veterinarian almost lost his forearm to a crocodile, after mistakenly shooting the animal with antibiotic darts instead of tranquilizers. In the same month, the zoo admitted that an elephant named Ali was indeed a female, after previously telling the public it was a male. Ali had been “married” to another female elephant named Annie in a wedding ceremony staged by the zoo five years prior. The zoo also said a pair of its newly-arrived raccoons had escaped unnoticed. 

After all of these incidents occurred over the course of a year, the government-run zoo  underwent a massive, NT$150 million makeover in 2009.

Image Credit: AppleZoomZoom / iStock.

6. Binky the Polar Bear

Imagine being a polar bear, not roaming the Arctic ice but instead confined within a zoo enclosure, subject to the constant attention of curious humans. Such was the life of Binky, a polar bear at the Alaska Zoo. In 1994, Kathryn Warburton, an Australian tourist, bypassed two safety barriers in an attempt to get a photo with Binky. But Binky was not having it and reacted by grabbing her, breaking her leg and inflicting several cuts before Warburton. Zoo visitors intervened. Despite the incident, Binky gained fame and even appeared on zoo merchandise.

Image Credit: Animal Planet / YouTube.

7. Gu Gu, the Giant Panda

Gu Gu, the giant panda at the Beijing Zoo, has certainly kept zoo officials on their toes. In September 2006, a drunk Chinese man named Zhang Xinyan trespassed into Gu Gu’s enclosure at the Beijing Zoo and attempted to hug the panda. This resulted in Gu Gu biting Zhang on both legs, making it clear that visiting the zoo while intoxicated might not be the best idea. 

Then again, in October 2007, a 15-year-old teenager named Li Xitao jumped the barrier into the panda’s exercise area, startling Gu Gu, who then bit Li on both legs. 

But wait. There’s more. In January 2009, another visitor named Zhang Jiao entered Gu Gu’s pen to retrieve his son’s toy, prompting Gu Gu to attack him, biting Zhang’s legs and causing injuries. All of these incidents involved visitors entering the animal’s pen. Today, at 24 years old, Gu Gu hopefully no longer deals with unwanted visitors.

Image Credit: Vikarna / Wikipedia.

8. African Painted dogs

On Nov. 4, 2012, 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh visited the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium with his parents, Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh. Upon reaching the enclosure of the African painted dogs, Maddox’s mom disregarded warning signs and lifted Maddox onto the railing of the viewing deck. The safety net below was designed to catch small objects like cell phones, cameras, and sunglasses but was not designed to bear the weight of a child. Tragically, Maddox slipped from Elizabeth’s grasp, bounced off the safety net, and fell several feet into the enclosure, where the pack of dogs immediately attacked him. Elizabeth, in a state of panic, screamed and attempted to enter the enclosure to rescue her son but was restrained by another visitor. Some zoo attendees reported hearing Elizabeth’s desperate cries for help from a distance, while those nearby witnessed the horrifying attack. To protect Maddox, a police officer at the scene shot and killed one of the dogs. Many of the dogs scattered after a while, except one to leave Derkosh’s lifeless body, forcing security to open fire on the animal. Derkosh’s family came to a settlement with the zoo a few years later, despite the defense team arguing that it was the parent’s neglect that caused the child to fall.

Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

9. Zanesville Massacre

While animal farms are certainly not zoos, there are quite a few wild animals held in cages across the country for reasons beyond research. On Oct. 18, 2011, the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio, witnessed a horrific event when owner Terry Thompson released 50 of his 56 exotic animals before taking his own life. Local law enforcement was forced to respond as lions, tigers, bears, and wolves roamed the area, posing a threat to public safety. Sadly, 48 of the escaped animals were killed by the police, with two presumed to have been consumed by their fellow escapees. The casualties included Bengal tigers, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, macaque monkeys, baboons, mountain lions, and African lions. 

Image Credit: Wirestock/iStock.

10. Don’t Break in the Zoo and Kick the Animals!

One Saturday night in 1970, 19-year-old Roger Dean Adams and two of his friends, having had a few drinks, decided to visit the Oregon Zoo in Portland on a whim. Despite it being closed, like most zoos are on Saturday nights, their adventurous spirit wasn’t dampened—they broke in to explore. Their first stop was the penguin exhibit, where Adams threw one of the penguins into the pool. Moving on to the bear enclosure, Adams climbed the wall, lowered himself down, and kicked a bear in the head. Shockingly, he escaped the enclosure unharmed. The young men then moved on to the lion enclosure. It was again Adams who decided kicking a wild animal was a fun idea. Repeating the same stunt from the bear enclosure, Adams kicked an 11-year-old lioness named Sis in the head. The lioness was not as forgiving as the bears and pulled the boy back into the cage where he was mauled to death. Adams’s friends tried to scare the animal away by throwing rocks at it, but to no avail. Soon after, they called the police, who shot and killed the lioness involved.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: Wellington Zoo Twitter.

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