12th February 2019

During late January, a red panda escaped from Belfast zoo and, thankfully, was found the next afternoon following a call to public appeals.

Local residents were asked to report sightings of the panda, named Amber and one of four to live in the zoo, to Belfast Zoo and local police after she escaped due to a fault in the electrical fencing of her enclosure, which has since been repaired.

Now that Amber has been found safely, a lot of the media attention surrounding her recapture was focused on her escape as an ‘adventure’. The Police Service of Northern Ireland referred to her as taking part in a “surprise vacation” and said she was taking in the sights on their Twitter and Facebook posts when attempting to find her. Officers also said that Amber “has not yet learned the green cross code”, warning motorists to be careful around the Glengormley area, while reassuring the public that the “explorer” would be returned to the zoo.

Someone in the area even captured a shot of the panda on their driveway. When this was reported, the Police Service Northern Ireland’s Facebook page was quick to make puns and refer to Amber as a ‘misper’, an abbreviation for ‘missing person’, disregarding the fact her health was in danger.

Public remarks such as these treat the event as a comical one, when it should be treated seriously in respect for Amber’s wellbeing. Making jokes about an escaped animal undermines the gravity of the situation and could result in the public not taking the animal’s welfare serious enough to help the animal.

And the consequences can be fatal. Oscar the spider monkey escaped from Belfast Zoo in June 2018, and was tragically killed when hit by a car.

Obviously, we do not want to see any animal in captivity. But those that are there right now in zoos located in environments so far from their natural habitat are in real danger if they escape. 

No animal’s life and health should be spoken of so light-heartedly and flippantly. Thankfully Amber was safe and in good health, but had it been otherwise, let’s hope the responses to her escape would have been more respectful.