Gorilla exits Boston zoo, injuring toddler and teenager

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

BOSTON -- A 300-pound gorilla will be kept off display after it escaped from its zoo enclosure for the second time in two months, snatching a 2-year-old girl and injuring a teenager, zoo officials said.

The gorilla, known as Little Joe, escaped Sunday night and roamed through the Franklin Park Zoo and along nearby streets for nearly two hours before it was sedated with tranquilizer darts, according to Zoo New England CEO and president John Linehan.

Eighteen-year-old Courtney Roberson worked at the zoo and was taking 2-year-old Nia Scott, her friend's little sister, for an outing when Little Joe escaped, according to family members.

The gorilla grabbed the child, threw her to the ground and jumped on her, according to Dale McNeil, Scott's godmother.

"It just makes me feel really, really upset that they allowed this to happen again. This little girl could have died," she said.

Neither zoo officials nor Boston Police could provide any information on the injuries. But family members said Scott had a gash on her cheek and needed several stitches. Roberson was bitten on the back and scratched on the leg, said her mother, Shamika Woumnm.

In August, the 5-foot, adolescent gorilla also escaped from its section of the Tropical Forest exhibit, which had a 12-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep moat. No one was hurt then, and zoo officials installed electrified wires to keep him from escaping again.

Officials did not know exactly how he got out on Sunday.

"There's a lot we have to find out, and we'll be reviewing what happened," Linehan said.

The gorilla was captured near a football stadium close to the zoo.

"We've had a very difficult evening, and we feel very badly about the adult and young child injured. We don't know the extent of their injuries, but we think they'll be OK," Linehan said.

"Needless to say, until further notice, he is not going to be on exhibit."

The Franklin Park Zoo, which has six gorillas, has acquired three male gorillas since 1998.

Young male gorillas like Little Joe, who was born in captivity, pose problems because of their agility and restlessness, according to Linehan.

"They go through a stage where, physically and psychologically, they're growing much stronger, and become much more lean and long, and containment can be an increasing challenge at that age," he said.

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