Saint Paul, MN

May 13, 1994: Como Zoo’s Casey the Gorilla Goes for a Spring Stroll

Matt Reicher

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Casey the GorillaMatt Reicher

SAINT PAUL, MN - On a spring day in 1994, visitors to Saint Paul’s Como Zoo were surprised to see a gorilla enjoying a stroll on the zoo’s grounds. His forty-five-minute-long escapade created a memory for those in attendance that will last a lifetime.

Each year millions of people come to visit the Como Zoo. There are few better ways to enjoy a beautiful Minnesota day than going to the zoo and seeing the animals up close. It’s a fun time — one that a person goes into without expectations because you can simply never know what you’ll get to see.

On May 13, 1994, patrons, usually content seeing the animals in action on the inside of their enclosures, unwittingly became part of the zoo experience.

At 11:30 AM, a crowd smiled and laughed as they watched the gorilla Casey II (affectionately known as Casey) bounce up and down at the center of his enclosure. Suddenly he leaped, jumping from the raised middle island toward the surrounding fifteen-foot cement wall. With the strength of a — well, 400-lb gorilla, Casey pulled himself up and over the wall. He then hopped a small fence and went for a walk.

Zoo officials quickly ushered visitors to safety — interestingly, the insanity of the moment didn’t seem to be a cause for alarm for many in attendance. Visitors spoke of Casey’s complacent demeanor and that he seemed just as shocked to see them as they did him. No one reported feeling threatened.

Seven Saint Paul police officers and eleven zoo guards immediately trailed Casey. After being allowed a short time to roam the grounds, they shot the gorilla in the “backside” with a tranquilizer dart. Unhappy about being shot, Casey pulled the dart out and tossed it to the ground.

Casey calmly continued his journey before curiously stopping in his tracks. Standing in front of the gate at the end of the zoo’s driveway was veterinarian Ralph Farnsworth — who the gorilla likely associated with needles to sedate him before medical procedures.

Not a fan of the first tranquilizer dart and not willing to deal with more of the same, he strolled back to his enclosure, climbed back over the fence, and jumped back inside. Before he returned, he took a moment to stand on a picnic table near the women’s restroom and inadvertently left footprints in some recently poured asphalt.

Interestingly, the tranquilizer dart the hit Casey never injected. He had returned to the exhibit of his own accord. After the incident, zoo officials began planning safety upgrades to his space to keep escape from happening again.

Thankfully, no one — including the gorilla — was harmed. While it was a scary situation for all involved, including the many children there on a field trip that day. It gave everyone there something to talk about for a very long time.

The whole ordeal was best summed up by kindergartner Bobby Valikus, who, when asked about the events of the day, exclaimed, “It was awesome.

A short time after the event, the zoo painted gorilla feet throughout the grounds to show future visitors the path that Casey traveled the day he took in the sites.

There were many theories about why Casey left his enclosure, but no one could say for sure. It is an event that is still talked about in Minnesota over twenty-five years after it happened.

Sources

  • “A 400-Lb. Gorilla Goes Where He Wants.” The New York Times — Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. Last modified May 14, 1994. https://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/14/us/a-400-lb-gorilla-goes-where-he-wants.html.
  • “Casey’s Great Escape.” Como Friends. Last modified March 14, 2017. https://comofriends.org/impact-and-news/2016/11/caseys-great-escape/.
  • “The Great Escape.” Saint Paul Almanac. Last modified May 19, 2010. https://saintpaulalmanac.org/2010/05/19/the-great-escape/.
  • KSTP. “Flashback Friday: Casey the Gorilla made his escape at Como Park Zoo 25 years ago.” YouTube. December 17, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QEjWJO_Xqc.
  • Schloss, R. “The Escape Of Gorilla Casey II At Como Zoo 1994.” YouTube. August 6, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oAy4fRmJRQ.

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