This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Three baboons—a 15-year-old male and two females—escaped a medical research facility at a Sydney hospital yesterday afternoon, breaking loose and running free around the hospital grounds before eventually being captured by police and tranquilised by wildlife handlers.
New South Wales Police were called to Camperdown’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), in Sydney’s inner west, at about 5:30PM after receiving reports that several of the primates had been spotted roaming the premises—specifically a car park attached to the hospital, according to the ABC—triggering an emergency response.
“Officers from Inner West Police Area Command were called to a car park on Missenden Road and Lucas Street, Camperdown, after reports three baboons escaped while being transported,” they said. "They are currently contained, and police are working with experts to safely return them to their facility.
“There is no immediate danger to the public, but people are advised to avoid the area."
There is an animal research facility on RPA hospital grounds—yet despite earlier reports suggesting that the monkeys were being transported there for research purposes, it has since been revealed that the male baboon was in fact scheduled to undergo a vasectomy.
"It had been decided the male needed to have a vasectomy to continue to move with his female troop and not keep producing babies," said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, according to The Canberra Times. "If he had been kept fertile he would have had to [be] moved from the family he knows."
The females were with the virile monkey to "keep him calm" for the procedure, which was due to take place today. Hazzard suggested that the baboons would be awake and well by the end of last night.
Kevin Coleman—an animal activist, former GP, and spokesman for the Sydney Save Animals in Laboratories movement, which aims to raise awareness around animal lab testing—described the monkeys' escape as a "major concern", and alleged that experts were conducting research into human-baboon hybrid organs to address the transplant crisis. Hazzard rejected these claims, labelling them "rubbish".
"These baboons were simply there for the old vasectomy," he said.
Coleman also flagged some fairly legitimate concerns, however, over the biosecurity implications of monkeys escaping their carers and running loose through a public hospital.
"If an animal the size of a baboon can escape, how many mice have escaped, how many other animals have escaped?" he said. "We just don't know and this is the problem. We have to have transparency on these issues."