Zoopocalypse Now: How I Survived The Gorilla Escape At London Zoo

14/10/2016 09:55 | Updated 14 October 2016
LEON NEAL via Getty Images

Yesterday, after school, my family and some friends decided to take a pleasant short trip to ZSL London Zoo. What started as a treat with five children constantly complaining about being hungry (despite being plied with food) turned into DISASTER!

As we made our way to the zoo exit an alarm blared like the return of the blitz: "Staff announcement, Gorilla Kingdom." Reading between the lines I realised there might be some issue with the Gorilla enclosure. Very quickly ZSL staff began ushering us towards the gift shop, which you're tricked into walking through every time you leave the zoo.

Now as a parent there are some nightmares you have that you hope will never come true. One of the worst is being locked in a toy and sweet shop with five kids under nine years of age. I dare you to try and explain how you can't leave the room you're in: and that no, jelly sweets are not a dinner alternative if we're here longer.

The shop staff looked worried. One told the unconvincing lie that it was "just a test" but then held the expression of someone who might need to get themselves a new pair of knickers. Others smiled and said everything was ok, and were generally calm (though the eyes were those of uncertainty.)

In fact they were great. They explained we couldn't leave as yet and went around seeing if anyone in difficulty needed a chair. As it turned out their main concerns were that if there was a loose Gorilla, it might be killed.

The mood in the gift shop-come-Gorilla-shelter was more uncertain than scared. A couple of our kids were worried but easily distracted with plush. My daughter's main concern was how many packets of Pombear I was going to let her have (as it turns out it was one, at three years old she's not a brilliant negotiator.)

The hilarity was the group of people who stood for the hour we were in there dutifully watching the Zoo through the glass frontage. I think they expected Kumbuka (who I later discovered was the escapee) would come belting across the courtyard, Planet of the Apes style, riding Captain BeeGee (ZSL's cycloptic Llama) with a keeper's rifle in his meaty digits. Alas all we saw was the calmest squad of armed police on the planet. Their biggest concern probably being the Carousel being turned off and them not being able to have a ride.

police at london zoo

With the gift shop being full of families I got to observe the common sight of an entitled parent berating someone because of their little delicate buttercup.


Esmerelda (as I've dubbed her) was angry that the Zoo staff had the audacity to consider our safety and lock us in a building so we can't be possibly beaten to death by a large animal. All because little Tallulah and Reginald (I assume these were the names of her children) were bored. I looked at the kids, they were fine. Probably wondering why Mum was making a scene again and missing their iPads.

It never ceases to amaze me the entitlement of some people. We were there for maybe an hour. Probably not even that. It wasn't cold. If we'd wanted food or drink they'd probably have just given it to us. All of this disregarding the fact that we'd all rather be there than have the possibility of re-enacting the end of King Kong.

As it turns our Kumbuka didn't even leave the whole enclosure. According to the ZSL statement he got into a Keepers Only section and then was caught. I reckon he was attempting to steal a uniform so he can take a jolly into Camden and visit the market. He's a big fan of knock off t-shirts and poorly printed wall art.

In the end the kids were fine, in fact better than fine as they'd managed to guilt us into buying them a cuddly otter and lion (my friend's eldest is hilarious and insisted on getting a Gorilla.) They'll have a funny story, and we didn't have Harambe London, as Kumbuka is fine (if a bit stoned.) The nice comedy bow on the whole occasion being ZSL's choice of exit sign thanking us for our patronage. A Gorilla with a leaf.

london zoo sign

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Gorilla on the ZSL sign was holding a butterfly. It was in fact a leaf.