Visitors tell of Edinburgh Zoo panic after Nazi cattle bull flees pen

Heck cattle were bred by German zoologists in the 1920s
Heck cattle were bred by German zoologists in the 1920s
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A FIGHT between two “Nazi cattle” led to a bull escaping from its enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo yesterday when the two animals smashed a hole in the fence.

An evacuation of the zoo began at around 3pm when an adult heck cattle bull got loose, with some people asked to wait inside the chimpanzee house and the cafe while the lock-down was in process.

A spokeswoman for the zoo later confirmed that the animal had been free for approximately 40 minutes before being shot with a tranquilliser dart.

Caroline Turner, 32, from Port Glasgow, was visiting the zoo along with her husband and four children.

She told the Evening News: “We saw what 
happened. Two bulls were fighting and one rammed the other into the fence and broke it. It was jammed under it. We actually thought that it had been gored by the other one and that it was dead.

“We started walking away back down the hill and saw some staff coming in the other direction. They told us to keep moving and asked if there were many other people still up there. Then we got told to go to the cafe and had to stay there for about an hour.”

Another visitor, Jean Turnbull, 57, from Durham, added: “We were at the Animal Antics show and suddenly we were being moved out. One of the staff said ‘we’ve got an escapee’ but didn’t say exactly what it was. At first we were worried it was a lion or something, but then we heard it was a bull. It was quite scary because they told us to make our way down the hill, but not to hesitate and not to look back, and we saw staff heading back up the hill with brooms and a tranquilliser gun. We could hear a very loud mooing and I heard one staff member saying it had knocked down the fence with its horns.”

The heck cattle were originally created through a selective breeding programme started by two prominent German zoologists in the 1920s, and later backed by the Nazi party, especially Herman Goering, the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. The party backed the breeding programme as part of a bizarre and unsuccessful attempt to bring back the extinct aurochs, the ancient ancestors of all modern cattle.

Edinburgh Zoo has a herd of nine heck cattle: three bulls and six cows, which arrived in 2009 from Devon. They can be aggressive and were described by keepers on their arrival as “quite dangerous animals”. Warning signs are posted around their enclosure to discourage visitors from trying to feed them.

A spokeswoman for the zoo said: “An adult heck cattle bull escaped from its enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo for 40 minutes.

“It stayed within the locality of the enclosure. Edinburgh Zoo visitors were immediately escorted to indoor areas in the zoo.

“Edinburgh Zoo’s trained team of expert keepers and veterinarians safely and effectively darted the animal.

“Staff are establishing the circumstances of the escape, and have secured 
the area.”

Bird on the wing

The latest “great escape” comes a fortnight after Cherry, a two-year-old ibis, got loose from her enclosure at the zoo when a squirrel chewed through her cage.

The scarlet bird spent nearly a week taking in the sights of Edinburgh and evading capture by perching in hard-to-reach places. It was six days before she was eventually recaptured by zookeepers after being tempted within reach by a combination of mussels, mealworms and prawns.

The zoo was also forced to go on lock-down in May this year when a family of hogs ran amok after escaping their keepers.

Visitors were kept in the monkey house while staff chased the family of red river hogs.