No gorilla suit nor mistaken identity: why the Canaries zoo story is not what it seems

Loro Parque in Tenerife denies press reports of comic scenes during emergency drill on Monday

The news about the gorilla incident in Tenerife has been reported around the world. / www.loroparque.com

The story was reported around the world. A keeper at the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife had been shot with a tranquilizer dart by a vet who had mistaken him for one of the park’s gorillas. The keeper, the story said, was dressed up in a gorilla costume, pretending to be an escaped animal. The episode sounds like something straight out of a comedy script, and the foreign tabloids were quick to report it. But the reality of the situation was not so funny: it was an accident that could have been much more serious. There was no gorilla costume, and nobody was mistaken for one of the zoo animals.

It is true that a zoo keeper was hit by a tranquilizer dart meant for gorillas during an emergency drill at the zoo on Monday. But sources from the park say that he was not dressed in a gorilla suit, nor was he imitating the movements of one of the giant apes, as the press reported.

During the emergency drill, a call went out to the vets giving them a false warning that one of the five gorillas had managed to escape a safety pen and make his way into another area meant for the animals. When one of the vets arrived on the scene, he was told by the employee in charge of the operation that it was a fictitious emergency.

If they told the story in the way it really happened, it wouldn’t be that funny”

It was at that moment that the vet accidently fired the tranquilizer gun, shooting one of the keepers in the leg. The injured 35-year-old man was treated by the medical staff at the center and taken to the Hospital Universitario de Canarias, where he was kept for a day-and-a-half before being discharged.

Patricia Delponti, the head of communication at the park, told EL PAÍS that the man was in perfect health, despite the impact of the projectile and the heavy dose of tranquilizer he received in the incident.

Emergency drills are a regular occurrence at Loro Parque, which is one of the biggest parks of its kind in Spain. During these drills, only a small number of staff are aware of the fact that the emergencies are not real. In this case, the heads of the simulation were two keepers, the director of the park, the head of emergencies and the director of a health and safety company who was there to evaluate the operation. According to the spokesperson from the Loro Parque, the drill had gone by without a hitch, until the accidental discharge of the tranquilizer dart.

“Everything that has been published in the foreign press about the keeper being dressed up as a gorilla, and that he was walking through the park in a gorilla suit, and that he was found in his underwear, is completely false,” explained Delponti, in reference to the information published in a number of German and British media outlets about the accident. “If they told the story in the way it really happened, it wouldn’t be that funny.” The park has published an official statement about what happened on its website.

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