Toronto’s best animal escapes

The missing capybaras from High Park Zoo are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animals running wild in the city


It’s been a week since two capybaras disappeared from the High Park Zoo, and the rodents are still at large. Park staff seem pretty confident that the animals haven’t wandered off too far, stating on the Friends of the High Park Zoo Facebook page on June 1 that “parks staff have received some credible sightings of the capybaras in the park. They are setting up new food stations and working with the Toronto Zoo and experts to bring them home.” However, Toronto residents seem less convinced – the city’s 311 hotline has reportedly been blinging non-stop with supposed capybara sightings across the city.

The critters have already been dubbed Bonnie and Clyde by Toronto media and those using the #capybarawatch hashtag on social media, and generally, residents are enamored with the idea that these large rodents (comparable to oversized guinea pigs) are running free. After all, everyone loves a good animal-escape story.

On that note, here’s a look back on other great escapes that have happened over the years.

That time a peacock escaped the High Park Zoo

In 2015, one of five peacocks at High Park Zoo flew the coop and was spotted around Roncesvalles and Parkdale before returning to its pen about a week later. While this wasn’t the first time the mischievous peafowl had gone missing, it was the longest he had been away from zoo grounds. Much like High Park’s capybaras, the roaming peacock captivated the city, even sparking a mock Twitter account under the name, Pea Cock.

That time a caiman was found in High Park

While some animals escape High Park, others find refuge in the sprawling public green space. In 2014, a 75-centimetre-long caiman was found near the park’s West Pond after reportedly escaping a pet-owner’s home. Caimans are a type of reptile similar to alligators, and they’re mostly found in Central and South America. This one, after being captured by Toronto Animal Services with the assistance of experts from Reptillia – a reptile zoo in Vaughan – will likely live out its days in Canada.

That time a monkey ran loose in Ikea

In 2012, a monkey dressed in a shearling coat and a diaper was seen wandering around the Ikea in North York. Darwin, as we later found out was the rhesus macaque’s name, wasn’t there to buy stylish yet inexpensive Swedish home goods, but had escaped his owner’s car. Photos and videos of Darwin captivated online audiences around the world, launching memes and social media accounts for the little ape. His owner, however, was charged for having an illegal exotic pet, and Darwin was sent to Story Brook Farm in Sunderland, Ontario.

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Alex Butler

A ball python found in a Toronto apartment looked a lot like this snake.

Those times snakes slithered free in apartments

While a pet snake will never seem appealing to some of us, some Toronto residents are evidently charmed by the slithering beasts. There have been at least two recorded snakes on the loose in Toronto apartments in the past few years. In 2010, residents of a downtown residential complex were warned by building management that a metre-long snake had gone missing from its owner. After it slithered out of the bathroom sink of a likely forever traumatized George Brown student, who emailed a video to the Toronto Zoo, the snake was later identified as an albino California King. Four years later, another snake slithered into another Toronto bathroom. A woman (again, traumatized) found a small ball python on her bathroom floor. Snakes In A Bathroom sounds like a pretty good Toronto-set sequel to Snakes On A Plane.

And here are a couple of “zoobreak” close calls

The High Park Zoo isn’t the only GTA zoo that’s experienced animal escapes. In 2009, a grizzly bear named Samson attempted to break out of his cage at the Toronto Zoo. The 11-year-old male had reportedly by clawing at his enclosure over night, and when zookeepers found the gaping hole in the morning, they rushed to patch up the fence before the bear could escape.

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Lemurs wandering outside their enclosure at the Toronto Zoo.

In 2012, zookeepers at the Toronto Zoo, once again, had to wrangle animals that had escaped their enclosures. Two long-tailed lemurs were spotted walking around the African Rainforest Pavilion during visitor hours. “Two of them were walking around the fence, and the other two were coming down the fence,” one onlooker told the Star. Zookeepers were called and the exhibit was shut down immediately until the lemurs were back in their cage.

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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