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Ben the bear escapes from his St. Louis Zoo habitat for the second time this month

The Living World sign outside of the St. Louis Zoo's North entrance.
Britny Cordera
St. Louis Public Radio
An Andean bear named Ben escaped his habitat enclosure on Thursday. This is the second time this month the same bear has escaped.

An Andean bear named Ben escaped from his outdoor habitat at around 1 p.m. on Thursday. It marked the second time this month Ben had gotten out.

After Ben’s first escape on Feb. 7, zoo staff replaced old fence clips with stainless steel clips that have a tension strength of about 450 pounds. Zoo officials say until this month, no bear has escaped its enclosure since the new bear habitat was installed in 2016.

“We thought those clips would do it, but he is a young male with lots of energy and curiosity. We had no bear escape until we got Ben,” said St. Louis Zoo Director Michael Macek.

Families at the zoo said they saw Ben the bear chewing on the fence of his enclosure before the getaway. The zoo immediately went into lockdown. Some people were concerned it was something more serious, but when they found out it was the bear they thought it was funny.

“First thing in my head when we went into lockdown was an active shooter, and that’s scary to think about, but we had a good laugh about it after,” one father said.

According to zoo officials, the mesh fencing around the enclosure did not give way. Instead, the clips that attach the framing to the fence broke.

“We’ll have to work with a number of other zoos and reach out to other community members to understand how we can really secure the mesh,” Macek said.

As a zoo nationally accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the St. Louis Zoo is inspected regularly by the agency. Macek said the zoo will work closely with the agency’s bear taxon advisory group.

“Ben will not be out again until we are absolutely sure that he won't be able to get through the mesh fencing,” he said.

Correction: Ben is an Andean bear. A previous version of the story misidentified the species.

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.

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