Lions And Zoos

When an Edinburgh Zoo polar bear escaped and eight other alarming escapes

At the time, it seemed that animal escapees from the capital’s zoo were alarmingly common.

From sea lions living in the Water of Leith to wandering wallabies eager to try their luck in Edinburgh’s outback, there have been many occasions when the people of Edinburgh Zoo have taken a break for the freedom.

READ MORE – Edinburgh Zoo hits back on TripAdvisor after tourist was scared off by ‘staff in dark glasses’

Of course, having wild animals on the loose was no laughing matter, with many being dangerous to humans and other local wildlife. Fortunately, such incidents are now rare.

Let’s take a closer look at eight times animal escapees from Edinburgh Zoo have made headlines in the past.

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Vulture culture

In November 1936, three South American vultures embarked on a treasure hunt that would take them several miles from Corstorphine.

Two of the three birds were eventually recaptured after being missing for seven weeks. It turned out that a farmer’s wife from Bo’ness had been feeding the birds of prey with her black hens. Unfortunately, the third vulture would have been shot by an unknown person.

Philippe becomes a monkey

Six hours of freedom was enjoyed by Philip the chimpanzee in 1945. The Edinburgh Zoo monkey, who was notoriously fond of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol (these were different times), was lured into his cage with a bottle of stout. Philip allegedly threw the empty bottle at his keeper after he returned to his bounds.



Philippe the chimpanzee smoking a cigarette on his trike. Note: This is not a real escape vehicle.

Bad badger?

The first people, naturally, to encounter escaped animals from Edinburgh Zoo were the residents of Corstorphine, and that is precisely what happened in August 1913 shortly after the zoo opened.

A local resident became alarmed when she saw a badger in her garden. It later emerged that the badger had been reported missing from the zoo.

Don’t mess with Molly

A big, albeit brief, scare happened in April 1987 when Molly the brown bear managed to climb a 13-foot high wall and get out of her enclosure.

The 10-year-old bear, however, was only free for around 12 minutes before keepers managed to drag her back to her den.

Zoo director Roger Wheater told reporters it was possible the bear escaped after being teased by a member of the public. Moral of the story? Do not play with bears – even if they are in captivity.



Don't mess with brown bears.
Don’t mess with brown bears.

Wolves slaughtered

One of the saddest incidents involved three wolves who escaped from their enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo in 1976. The wolves were shot by keeper who feared for the safety of zoo visitors and believed that action drastic was necessary. Two staff members were disciplined following the incident for their negligence.

Sea Lions in the Water of Leith

In the early hours of May 2, 1924, the three Californian sea lions at Edinburgh Zoo escaped from their enclosure and rushed for the exit. Incredibly, the cunning creatures managed to make their way to the Water of Leith and were discovered on the banks of the river at Roseburn. Two months later, a sea lion again escaped from the zoo, this time to Stockbridge.

Polar expedition (bear)

One of Edinburgh Zoo’s most legendary characters was the Starboard polar bear, who was one of the first animals to arrive at Corstorphine Hill when the zoo opened in 1913.

In 1916, Starboard, who has been described as “the father of the zoo”, escaped from the bear pool and enjoyed freedom for two full hours. It was said the bear was spooked by an encounter with a buffalo elsewhere in the park and voluntarily returned to its boundaries.



To starboard, the polar bear was a bit of a celebrity at Edinburgh Zoo.
To starboard, the polar bear was a bit of a celebrity at Edinburgh Zoo.

Escape to Edinburgh’s outback

In 1988, a two-year-old wallaby named Skippy kept zoo authorities on their toes for several days.

Arriving in Edinburgh a few days early from Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, Skippy decided his new home was not to his liking and managed to scale a five-foot wall in his quest for freedom.

The animal was spotted in several different locations in Edinburgh during its escape, with one sighting at a local golf course. You got your t-shirt then, huh Skip?