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Milwaukee County Zoo employees disciplined after grizzly bears escape main enclosure

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Two Milwaukee County Zoo Employees have been disciplined after two grizzly bears escaped out of their main enclosure.

The incident happened on June 21st around 5 p.m.

Text messages between Milwaukee County Zoo employees captured the tense moments when the bears got out.

“We have two grizzlies not contained in the service area right now,” one of the texts read. “Not a drill.”

“Call me ASAP,” another text message said. “Animal escape happening.”

The Zoo says an unlocked door allowed the bears to enter a second containment area.

Immediately the Zoo kicked off their Dangerous Animal Escape Procedure, a 19-page document that lists the responsibilities of each zoo employee should an animal ever get loose.

On June 21, zoo patrons were immediately escorted into buildings for safety.

The escape procedure categorizes a grizzly bear escape as one of the “greatest danger,” most likely requiring a “shoot to kill order.”

The zoo has a weapons team on standby. They were called into action on this day but a zoo document shows “they were instructed not to shoot unless a bear started to make it past secondary containment.”

After about a half hour, zookeepers were able to lure the bears back into their main enclosure using food. No one was hurt and the bears never entered an area where zoo guests were.

“All clear,” another text message said. “Grizzlies secured.”

The zoo has a two person lock policy where one person is in charge of locking the enclosure and the other is responsible for double-checking.

Both employees at fault in this incident received a performance final warning.

Dr. Susan Lewis is an Animal Behavior and Biology Professor at Carroll University in Waukesha. The University has partnered with the Milwaukee County Zoo for 25 years. Dr. Lewis said zoo animal escapes are very rare, but that the Zoo is more than prepared if it ever happens.

“This incident showed how prepared they are, and how they can deal with any error that happens in those protocols,” Dr. Lewis said.

She says the bears weren’t trying to cause any harm, but just checking out the new area they were exposed to.

“Bears are really curious, they are going to explore their environment,” Dr. Lewis said.

CBS 58 did reach out to the Zoo for comment on their escape procedure, but they declined an interview.

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