How safe is the Detroit Zoo?

n incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the killing of a gorilla after a boy fell into its habitat marked a rare human-animal interaction in a public zoo setting, prompting zoos nationwide to review the safety precautions they have in place — including the Detroit Zoo.

“We’re always reviewing facilities and protocols for the safety of animals and guests, but when things like this happen we do take a close look at what’s in place and see if there are additional things we should do,” Scott Carter, chief life and sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society, tells BLAC.

The last time the Detroit Zoo had an incident with a visitor entering an animal habitat was in the 1990s, when a 33-year-old truck driver from Cement City jumped into the former chimpanzee habitat to save an ape he believed was drowning. After pulling the ape from the habitat’s moat, he was able to drag him to safety.

“Then I looked up and saw there was another one coming down the hill with his teeth bared. I didn’t know if he was going after the other monkey or after me, but I got the hell out of there,” the driver told the Chicago Tribune.

That interaction ended without incident, and the zoo has since upgraded to the expansive four-acre Great Apes of Harambee habitat there now.


“Many preventative measures are in place, starting with bricks and mortar,” Carter says. “When designing and constructing a new animal habitat, specific standards are set for things like moat depth and wall height and only the toughest safety glass and other construction materials are used. We have multiple barriers in place at all of our animal habitats to protect both our visitors and the animals.”

Carter adds that the zoo’s immobilization team and dangerous animal response team regularly participate in safety drills in the unlikely event of an animal escape or a visitor entering a habitat. These safety measures are required as part of their accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“All staff are thoroughly trained on how to respond in order to keep visitors, staff and animals safe from harm,” Carter says. “For everyone’s safety, we prohibit guests from entering restricted areas. We do not allow guests to climb over, lean on or lift children onto or over fences at animal habitats.”

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