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Honolulu Zoo auditing exhibit after chimpanzee escape

By Noelle Fujii

LAST UPDATED: 3:31 p.m. HST, Jun 25, 2014

The Honolulu Zoo is investigating how the 15-year-old chimpanzee Puiwa escaped Tuesday afternoon from the chimp exhibit.

Puiwa was discovered outside of the exhibit by a visitor shortly after 4 p.m, said zoo director Jeffrey Wilkinson. The zoo's capture team set a perimeter with its personnel to keep the male chimpanzee contained and a crowd-control team escorted visitors to a secure area. 

Puiwa was sedated using a tranquilizer gun and returned to his exhibit shortly before 5 p.m. 

"To our knowledge, Puiwa never left the outer edge of the exhibit," Wilkinson said at a news conference Wednesday. 

Once calm, Puiwa and seven other chimpanzees were secured in their sleeping quarters. The situation was resolved by 7:30 p.m. No injuries were reported.

The exhibit, which is surrounded by a high wall, is closed until the zoo finishes its investigative audit to determine how the chimpanzee escaped. 

The incident marks the second chimpanzee escape at the zoo.

In the late 1990s, some of the zoo's chimpanzees escaped from the same enclosure by way of an overhanging limb. Wilkinson said some of the zoo's current chimpanzees were involved in that incident.

"After that escape we've dramatically trimmed back or removed trees that could possibly allow for an escape," he said, adding that chimpanzees are both incredibly athletic and clever. 

"We're always trying to evolve and create better exhibits that really minimize the risk of escape with very clever animals," he said. 

Puiwa appeared to be faring well Wednesday, based on observation, Wilkinson said. The chimpanzees will be held in a day pen by their sleeping quarters until the audit is complete. 

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