(TMU) – Zoos around the world use specially designed enclosures for wild animals for the protection of the visitors and the animals. Unfortunately, in recent history, enclosures have been breached by visitors. Whether by accident or deliberately, such breaches can lead to serious injury or death for the human, the animal, or both.
But, one deliberate breach by a visitor at the Detroit Zoo actually saved a life.
In 1990, Rick Swope, a truck driver, while visiting the Detroit Zoo with his wife and three children, took a huge risk not even the zoo keepers were willing to take. While at the primate enclosure watching the chimpanzees, a male called Jo-Jo and another male started fighting. Jo-Jo tried to escape, ending up falling into the moat designed to keep the chimps inside their enclosure.
Chimps don’t swim, so Jo-Jo was in big trouble.
Speaking to the Deseret News, Swope said: ‘’Everyone in the whole place was just standing around watching this monkey drown. When he went down the second time I knew I had to do something.”
Swope took action, climbing the four foot security wall to get into the moat, regardless of warnings by a zookeeper to keep out of the enclosure. Putting his own life at risk, Swope disregarded the advice and went on to save Jo-Jo’s life.
The unprecedented rescue made national headlines in the news and left a lasting impression on famous primatologist, Jane Goodall, who spent her career working with chimpanzees.
While speaking to a crowd at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2005, Jane Goodall referenced the incident and a conversation she had with the institute’s then-director about the rescue.
“He called up Rick Swope and he said, ‘That was a very brave thing you did. You must have known it was dangerous. Everyone was telling you. What made you do it?’ And Rick said, ‘Well, you see, I happened to look into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man, and the message was, ‘Won’t anybody help me?’’’
In the notes of her address, Goodall explained Jo-Jo’s history, about how he was taken from the wild after his mother was killed by poachers and the hardship that followed until he was rescued. Unfortunately, a similar story echoes for countless chimps who long for people to see them as Swope had.
“If you see that look with your eyes, and you feel it in your heart, you have to jump in and try to help,” she said.
Rick Swope still lives in the area and, 30 years later, the amazing story of the brave action he took to save Jo-Jo still inspires those who read it. Unfortunately, there is no news of what’s become of Jo-Jo.
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