For animal-lovers, a visit to the zoo can make for a delightful afternoon. Nothing quite spoils the enjoyment, though, like carnivorous animals escaping their enclosures and running amok.
As such, it’s incredibly important that zookeepers, such as the ones at Tokyo’s Tama Zoological Park, develop and drill recapture procedures for escaped animals. And if such exercises involve someone dressing up in an adorable snow leopard costume and flailing around like a predatory cat that’s had one too many Ebisu beers? Well, that’s just icing on the cake.
Being on the western outskirts of Tokyo, the Tama district isn’t nearly as urbanized or densely packed with people as the center of the city. It’s actually a popular neighborhood for families, many of whom come with their young children to visit the animal residents of the Tama Zoological Park.
Since Japan is a country that can never have too much cuteness, a lot of the zoo’s charges are cuddly critters such as lesser pandas, koalas, tanuki, and bunny rabbits. There’s also a full roster of popular herbivores including elephants, giraffes, and kangaroos.
The other half of the circle of life also gets represented at the zoo, too. Visitors can also observe some of nature’s great hunters as they watch the park’s lions, tigers, and snow leopards.
Of course, with such dangerous animals on the premises, safety is always a priority. So on February 10, the Tama Zoological Park staff staged a drill, even going so far as to create a backstory for it.
As described by park manager Yutaka Fukuda, the fictional scenario for the practice session was that a tree had fallen over during an earthquake, damaging the snow leopard enclosure and allowing the animal to escape. In such a situation, he explains, the first priority is to confirm the safety of the zoo’s visitors, and quickly evacuate them to a safe area.
The next phase of the response plan is to recapture the animal. Rather than simply have the response team converge on a preset location for their training, the zoo decided to employ a live quarry. It’s an admirable touch of realism, but also one that’s almost entirely spoiled by how cute the target looked.
Don’t believe us? Check out the footage from Kyodo News , below.
As the video opens, we see zookeepers securing the area where the “snow leopard” was found by putting up a wall of netting. Soon after, the recapture team rolls up in their van, which adds two more dashes of cuteness to the proceedings thanks to its super-compact size and zebra paint pattern.
It looks like they arrived just in time, too. We’re guessing whoever is inside the suit is trying to pantomime the animal lashing out with its claws, but his movements, especially around the 25-second mark, make it look more like the escaped animal somehow got into the beer keg at one of the zoo’s concession stands, as it staggers around and seems to be looking for someone to listen to its slurred soliloquy.
▼ “I love you, man!”
The zookeepers are in no mood to hang out with this drunk cat, though. Instead, they pull up beside him in their van, draw a bead on him, and pull the trigger of their rifle, which in the case of a real animal escape would be loaded with a powerful tranquilizer dart.
▼ Basically, it’s a drive-by.
The video then cuts to the zookeepers closing in to wrap the snow leopard in a net and load him onto a truck for transport back to his pen. Later, the footage jumps back to reveal an intermediary step: poking the animal repeatedly to make sure the tranquilizer has taken effect and the animal is completely unconscious.
▼ “Well, Tanaka, the good news is, no desk work for you today!”
“Great! And the bad news?”
“It involves a stick.”
We’re not sure it was entirely necessary to prod the snow leopard with a pole a half-dozen times, but hey, it must be hard to show restraint when your adrenaline is pumping from squaring off with such a fierce-looking animal.
Related: Tama Zoological Park
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: Tama Zoological Park ( 1 , 2 , 3 ), YouTube