JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was a brief scare at the Jacksonville Zoo Sunday afternoon when a bull elephant lumbered through an open gate and caused a code red lockdown.
Officials with the zoo said at 12:20 p.m. Sunday, Ali the elephant briefly wandered from his enclosure through an open gate into a contained courtyard behind the giraffe and elephant night-house.
He was quickly returned and secured in a holding enclosure. There were no guests, staff members or animals, including Ali, injured during the incident.
"In this case, they start clearing people so that there's no distraction to the animal. You want him to go back into where he is supposed to be, and do that as quickly as possible," said Dan Maloney, deputy director of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
Zoo officials said the incident was a result of human error and the elephant keepers immediately realized Ali was not in his holding yard and called a “code-red as per procedures.
"We were fortunate that the animal was contained in a back area. There was never any danger that he was going to be coming into a public area," Maloney said.
While no guests were in danger, anytime an animal is not where they are supposed to be, established safety protocols go into effect. All traffic traveling near the elephant building was stopped, including the trains on the far side of the zoo.
Elephant keepers were able to quickly and safely lead Ali back to his enclosure. Daily training sessions zookeepers conduct with the animals in their care reinforce the relationship that allowed keepers to encourage the big guy back to his area with nothing but verbal commands, hay and browse.
Ali came to the zoo in 1997 from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. He is estimated to be 28 years old and is an extremely good-natured bull elephant. Ali shares his habitat with two older females named Sheena and Thandi. The females were in the large yard that the public can view while Ali was in the private yard in the rear of the night-house. In the rear yard, Ali has larger enrichment items to play with and gets private feedings away from the rest of the herd.
“We perform animal escape drills so that our team can practice for just this sort of occasion,” said Tony Vecchio, executive director of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. ”I’m proud to say our staff did exactly what they were supposed to and everything was resolved quickly.”
As soon as Ali was safely returned to his holding yard, the zoo resumed normal operations including the trains that pass along the back of the giraffe and elephant barn.