Here’s All the Animals That Escaped From the National Zoo

Pandas lured out with grapes, a roaming bobcat, and a monitor lizard who did not want to lay pipe for a crowd.
Kevin Schafer photo via Getty Images.

No one knew where Ollie the bobcat was and that was a problem. It was 2017 and she’d vanished during the morning feeding. “Two male bobcats responded for food (normal behavior,)” a report on animal escapes from the Smithsonian National Zoo in D.C. said. “One female bobcat (Ollie) did not respond for food (highly unusual.)” Keepers searched the enclosure for Ollie and could not find her.”

Animals are always escaping from zoos. Not a year goes by that some birds don’t take the opportunity to flee their enclosure or a bear manges to get through the bars and take a stroll. According to a list of escape incidents from the National Zoo, the animals are almost always captured.


The list of escape incidents is the result of a Freedom of Information Act request published by The Government Attic. Most of the incidents aren’t very exciting. It is, overwhelmingly, a collection of stories about birds slipping through the bars before being netted and returned to their enclosure.

But there are a few gems. Like the green monitor lizard that didn’t want to fuck in front of a crowd. “Keeper called code green (alerted the staff that an animal had escaped) when the green tree monitor jumped out of his cage during husbandry and ran down the hall,” the list said. “The animal hid behind a small shelf. Keepers maintained a visual on the animal, recaptured it and it was back in the enclosure within 5 minutes of escaping.”

I do not blame the green monitor lizard. He simply did not want to perform for an audience. Cowering behind the shelf was his one respite from performance anxiety.

It’s rare for an animal to vanish after its escape, but that’s apparently what happened to a hedgehog in 2015. “A female lesser tenrec (hedgehog) was discovered to be missing from its enclosure, while 4 others remained in the enclosure,” the report said. “Keepers, staff and zoo police were called to search for the missing tenrec. It was discovered that there was an access pipe going to the subbasement and that area was explored as well. No animal was discovered in either area after an intensive search.”


High profile and dangerous animals often liven behind several layers of confinement. It’s hard for them to escape, but it does happen. Like with Ollie the bobcat.

After discovering she's vanished, the zoo secured the other two bobcats and went on the hunt for Ollie. The zookeepers called a code green, alerted the authorities and searched for Ollie. “Code Green was called over radio, emphasizing that no assistance was needed from other than those specifically called to respond and assuring staff that there was no threat to human safety,” the report said. “Staff searched in the immediate area for about half an hour with no signs of the bobcat.”

Over the next 24 hours, keepers responded to reports of the bobcat prowling the zoo but no one could make visual contact. They set out large “have a heart” traps in an attempt to safely secure her. On the afternoon of the next day, they placed some of these traps outside of one of the large bird exhibits and were, finally, able to capture Ollie and return her to her enclosure. 

Ollie is the most thrilling of the animal escape tales. The most adorable story involves a red panda. It happened on November 2, 2017.  “At approximately 8am, a keeper called code green red panda,” the report said. “Red panda had been locked out on exhibit for the day, the male red panda followed the keeper through the keeper access door back into the holding area and was loose in the building. He proceeded to climb up the holding caging onto the top. Staff responded to the red panda holding. Keepers secured the female red panda out in the yard. All holding doors were opened and, using grapes, red panda was enticed back off the top down into the holding caging.”

I would escape too if it meant someone would pay attention and give me lots of grapes.