Rhino Escapes Nebraska Zoo Enclosure, Leading Visitors to Shelter in Place

by Megan Molseed

One of the Henry Doorly Zoo rhinos decided to go for a little unannounced stroll Tuesday afternoon. Prompting zoo officials to call for a lockdown. Zoo staff had to entice the wayward male Indian rhinoceros back into his area using treats.

Thankfully, no humans – or animal zoo residents – were harmed while the rhinoceros was on the loose.

The adventurous rhinoceros escaped from his enclosure; which is located in Omaha, Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium early Tuesday afternoon.

How Do You Play ‘Hide-and-Seek’ With A Rhinoceros?

The 5,000 pound Indian Rhino Jontu was found to be missing from his enclosure at around 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. In response, the officials at the Henry Doorley Zoo and Aquarium locked down the area. They also asked visitors to shelter in place until the massive animal could be located and returned to his enclosure.

“This is the kind of thing we practice for all the time,” said Dan Cassidy, the president of animal management at the Henry Doorley Zoo and Aquarium. “Although of course, we hope it never happens.”

Cassidy noted that zoo officials regularly run escape drills throughout the grounds. However, the drills are run on Henry Doorley’s smaller animals. Rather than the larger ones such as Jontu.

After some searching by the zoo officials in the hectic “this-is-not-a-drill” moment, the thirteen-and-a-half-year-old rhinoceros was located. Just thirty-five feet away from his home enclosure.

When Jontu was found, he was “eating a bunch of grass,” said Zoo officials.

Jontu Was A Happy Rhino, On the Loose, Snacking On Grass

Officials note that Jontu was in his “happy place,” just outside of his enclosure. Snacking on grass because “he didn’t want to leave.”

The rhinoceros remained in the zoo’s “behind the scenes” areas the entire time.

“He was in a behind-the-scenes area,” the official said. “So at no time was anybody from the public in danger.”

Cassidy added that everything went as well as it could in such a situation.

“Nobody got hurt, no animals got hurt,” he said. “Everything went well.”

The rhino escaped through an improperly locked gate to his enclosure. The zoo will be installing a second gate, just to be safe. Officials are also adding fencing to the “behind the scenes” area in which the rhinoceros was found.

No Extreme Force Necessary – Just Treats

It was important to Henry Doorley Zoo and Aquarium officials that they avoid tranquilizing the 5,000-pound Jontu. So they found some creative options while trying to draw him back into his home enclosure on the grounds.

Instead, officials utilized pick-up trucks driving to help guide Jontu away from the grass the rhinoceros found to be delicious. In addition, Jontu’s keepers and handlers used apples; and some of the rhino’s other favorite treats in order to lure Jontu back to his enclosure.

It took the zoo officials around fifty minutes to get the rhinoceros back home.

“I’ve seen it happen at other zoos. I was like ‘Man, what kind of security do they have there that a rhino gets out?'” Cassidy joked. “And now I know it can happen here too.”