Gorilla who escaped St. Paul zoo moving to try breeding

Published 8:23 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — Two popular but endangered escape artists are leaving the Audubon Zoo in hopes that they’ll make some babies.

Berani, a male Sumatran orangutan, and Casey, a male western lowland gorilla, represent critically endangered species, and fresh faces at other zoos may stimulate breeding.

Berani, 24, had a daughter eight years ago. Casey, 34, has been paired with four different females without any offspring.

“We’ve seen some breeding” with one of the two female gorillas. “But nothing’s taken,” said Courtney Eparvier, the zoo’s curator of primates.

Casey will go to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky on June 12. Berani is off to the Denver Zoo a few weeks later.

Casey escaped in 1994 from an exhibit at the Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, by scaling a 15-foot wall. The 18-foot-wide moat at Audubon meant Casey couldn’t get out after coming to New Orleans in 2002, curator Dan Mahoney told The Associated Press in 2004.

Berani, who came to New Orleans in 2001 from the Chicago Zoo, made news twice in 2009 — for a January escape and for daughter Menari’s birth that June.

His escape was brief, but spectacular: Berani covered electric wires around the top of his exhibit with a T-shirt given to the orangutans as a toy, and clambered out over it. After about 10 minutes on the boardwalk, he jumped back into his enclosure, a zoo spokeswoman told Nola.com ‘ The Times-Picayune.

“He was very young,” said Eparvier, who was not at Audubon in 2009.

Orangutans tend to be solitary in the wild, and since Menari was born, her mother, Feliz, now 28, and Berani “have not really gotten on very well,” Eparvier said. Their current exhibits are separated.

Menari is 8 years old now and won’t be ready to breed until she’s 13. “When she does get sexually mature, we would probably have to look at that, and maybe she gets transferred out,” Eparvier said.