As a giraffe roamed free at the Franklin Park Zoo Wednesday morning, visitors were rushed to safety and animals were brought to their indoor confines while trained employees grabbed weapons and equipment to control the animal.
The loose giraffe was really an employee in a costume, and the exercise was the zoo’s annual dangerous animal escape drill.
“We’ve over the years used everything from lions to tigers and leopards,” said John Linehan, president and chief executive of Zoo New England. “We have a pretty elaborate plan.”
“We do need to have real weapons and we are prepared for that as well,” Linehan said.
He said that the entire staff is involved in shepherding visitors and animals to safety and controlling the escapee. For each drill, an employee is chosen to dress as the loose animal.
This year, Heidi Hakes, the rentals and private functions coordinator at the zoo, donned a giraffe costume and was eventually put under control by zoo authorities.
Anne Knapp, the dangerous animal recovery team coordinator and director of animal resources, said the exercise went “just as planned.”
The drills have been performed at least once a year for about 20 years. A decade ago, a 300-pound adolescent gorilla, Little Joe, escaped the zoo, injuring a 22-year-old and an off-duty zoo employee.
Last fall, a baby zebra and its mother got loose from their exhibit but no one was injured.
Practicing for such events allows zoo employees to be prepared.
“By doing those drills over the years we’ve really helped to iron out those kinks,” Linehan said.
The zoo also coordinates with local officials, including Boston and state police, emergency medical services, environmental police, and other departments.
For the drill today, Boston Police, Boston EMS and Boston Fish and Wildlife were present, said Knapp.