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Circus Zebra Escapes in Atlanta 02/18/10

02/18/10

Circus zebra leads police on wild chase
By Kristi E. Swartz and Ty Tagami

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A zebra from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus escaped his handler and led police on a chase through downtown Atlanta on Thursday afternoon.

The black-and-white striped animal was spotted all over town — in the parking lot near the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, near Centennial Olympic Park, CNN and on the Downtown Connector. He was finally captured on the interstate near the Grady curve. According to witnesses, he was galloping between lanes of traffic on the Downtown Connector before his capture.

The 12-year-old zebra, named Lima, was exercising to prepare for Thursday night’s circus performance at Philips Arena when “something spooked him,” Ringling Brothers spokeswoman Crystal Drake told the Associated Press. The zebra broke away from his trainers and bumped up against a fence before wiggling through an opening and running off, she told the AP.

“We’re not sure what it was that startled him, but we’re looking into that,” Drake told the AP.

Daniel Nance saw a westbound zebra zipping down Alabama Street near MARTA’s Five Points station.

“All of a sudden, a freaking zebra comes running down the street like a car. Five or six police cars were in hot pursuit. And a bunch of officers on foot. But then I got scared, thinking … what else is loose?” a laughing Nance said.

Soon after, a man working with police got a hold of the zebra in the parking lot of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, said Jonathan Harris, a MARTA worker who was outside the Five Points station taking a break. But only for a moment.

“It just started dragging him,” Harris said.

Minutes before, Prapik Jani saw the animal jogging along Baker Street a half mile away next to Centennial Olympic Park. Jani, who manages the Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, said several of his customers gasped. He looked outside and saw an African creature running down the pavement. “It was wild,” Jani said. “I thought I was seeing things.”

Jani said there were “a bunch” of police on bicycles chasing after the zebra.

Using a combination of reports from AJC staffers and eye-witness accounts, here’s the route the zebra took:

4:37 p.m.

An AJC staffer spotted the zebra on Fairlie Street behind the Atlanta Journal-Constitution building. A circus trainer said the zebra had to have gotten through a hole in the gate.

The zebra walked down along a ramp on Spring Street and went up to Marietta Street.
It then ran to Luckie Street and over to Broad Street.

From Broad Street, the zebra ran up through the Five Points area and was near the Five Points MARTA station.

Nance and Harris saw the zebra run along Alabama Street — toward the circus animal holding area, which is across the street from the CNN Center.

5:00 p.m.

The zebra was contained in the parking lot by the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, near the CNN Center and Philips Arena.

Trainers were walking with the zebra when it started to charge, dragging one of the trainers momentarily before it took off again, running across the railroad tracks and through a gate. One of the trainers was holding on to the zebra as it ran through the gate.

The zebra ran through the parking lot and down through the tunnel between Philips Arena and the CNN center.

It then came out onto Baker Street and turned left, running onto Williams Street. It followed the ramp onto the downtown Connector.

The zebra was cornered on the downtown connector just before the Martin Luther King Jr. exit.

Police cruisers blocked off all southbound lanes of Interstate 75 and were able to herd the zebra over to the right shoulder and off an entrance ramp, where his trainer was on hand to capture and soothe him, Drake told the AP.

“He obviously was excited, but he was in good shape,” Drake told the AP. “His handler calmed him down.”

The animal suffered cuts on his hooves from his long run, Drake said. The show’s vet was examining him, but Drake said he would likely perform as scheduled.

This isn’t the first time a zebra has been out on the highway in recent years. A young zebra was found stranded and injured on I-75 in Butts County in April 2008. Then a zebra who usually lives on a farm across from Oxford College’s Newton County campus was zebra-napped and deposited inside the college’s Seney Hall as part of a prank.

Zebras’ stripes stick out on the highway or on campus, but they help them hide among tall grasses in Africa, especially from lions, the color-blind predator.

“Each zebra has an individual stripe pattern, similar to a person, which has its own unique fingerprint, ” Lisa Smith, Zoo Atlanta’s curator of large mammals, told the AJC in 2008.

— Staffers Ben Gray, Jamie Gumbrecht, Tyson Horne and Ty Tagami contributed to this story.

_____________________________________________________

Zebra resting at UGA’s vet school

By Kristi E. Swartz and Ty Tagami

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

8:02 p.m. Friday, February 19, 2010
Lima, the zebra that broke loose from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus area late Thursday afternoon, is at UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine and is “fine,” a spokeswoman for the circus told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday.

The 12-year-old zebra broke loose from a training-and-exercise area and ran through downtown Atlanta in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

His hooves were bloody from running along the pavement. Circus spokeswoman Crystal Drake said several vets examined Lima on Thursday, and he was taken to UGA on Friday for a full, comprehensive exam, she said.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked for a federal investigation into the handling of Lima.

PETA on Friday morning sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture saying that Ringling Bros. “is in violation of handling regulations … .”

PETA went further to ask the USDA to “ensure that the zebra who ran loose in Atlanta … is receiving adequate veterinary care for the cuts he sustained on his hooves and for any other injuries and that the safety of the animals and the public is protected.”

“We’re in full compliance,” Drake told the AJC. She also said the circus welcomes any investigation that the USDA may want to do.

Ringling Bros. has vets that travel with the circus and also has an on-call contact in each city it visits, she said. While those doctors did examine Lima, the circus asked another vet — Dr. Dennis Schmitt, who is the chair of Veterinary Services and director of research with the animal stewardship department at Ringling Bros. — to fly in and examine the zebra as well.

The black-and-white striped animal was spotted all over town — in the parking lot near the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, near Centennial Olympic Park, CNN and on the Downtown Connector. He was finally captured on the interstate near the Grady curve. According to witnesses, he was galloping between lanes of traffic on the Downtown Connector before his capture.

Lima was exercising to prepare for Thursday night’s circus performance at Philips Arena when “something spooked him,” Drake said. The zebra broke away from his trainers and bumped up against a fence before wiggling through an opening and running off, she said.

PETA, in its letter to the USDA, pointed out earlier concerns the group had about the potential for zebras escaping.

Friday, Drake said they still weren’t sure what the noise was that startled the animal.

Ringling Bros. is performing at Philips Arena until Sunday. The show then travels to Raleigh.

Drake said it’s unclear whether Lima will travel to Raleigh.

“It’s day by day,” she told the AJC.

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