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Visitors to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo were asked to evacuate the premises yesterday after it was reported that a gorilla had become loose from its enclosure. More than 50 members of staff immediately leapt into action, preparing giant nets and tranquilizer guns to take down the rampaging, and undeniably cuddly looking, animal.

This was, of course, simply a training exercise and one that numerous Japanese zoos carry out every few years. Last February, we reported on Tama Zoo’s own “animal escape” exercises, in which a guy wearing an enormous zebra costume pelted through the grounds before being tackled by staff, so the sight of grown men and women pursuing a woman in a fluffy ape suit yesterday was no doubt a surprisingly familiar sight for the Japanese TV-watching public.

Even so, yesterday’s event prompted a flurry of posts from Japanese Twitter users, all rather amused by the antics taking place at the zoo, sharing photos grabbed mainly from their TV sets after local news crews documented the events.

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While amusing (and if we’re being completely honest rather dubious, since we doubt standing in a line banging poles on the ground would be the best way to tackle a charging adult gorilla), these exercises serve to remind staff at the zoo that such situations can occur, and that an escaped animal is usually scared and may act aggressively as a result.

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Staff are reminded of their roles in such situations, and local police and fire crews are often involved in the training events, just as they would if an animal broke free following an accident or a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Still, we can’t help wondering if the exercise would be taken a bit more seriously if the zoo splashed out on some costumes that were slightly more lifelike…

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▼ The last nine years of animal escape training in Tokyo’s zoos in photos

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Source/images: Hachima Kikou
Video: AFPBB News