Zoo emergency response teams, also called emergency weapons teams, lethal restraint teams or firearms emergency response teams, are teams that respond when zoo animals escape their enclosure and threaten zoo visitors and employees.
Emergency response teams are responsible for the capture of escaped animals. Goals include: (listed in order of priority)
Emergency response teams are not full-time but are typically composed of zoo employees who have received special weapons training with the police. They are trained to use deadly force, but only as a last resort when the escaped animal is threatening the life of a human being. Zoos frequently perform training drills in order to keep the team up to date and ready for a real animal escape.
When an animal escapes, guests are immediately evacuated from the area and escorted to secured buildings on zoo grounds by the zoo’s emergency response team (veterinarians armed with tranquilizer equipment, zoo firearms team and animal management staff). The zoo’s perimeter is sealed off for safety and is usually reopened after the animal is secured.
Many zoos created or enhanced their emergency response teams following a gorilla attack at the Dallas Zoo in 2004.
Two tiger attacks at the San Francisco Zoo occurred on December 22, 2006 and December 25, 2007, both involving a 243-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana (June 27, 2003 — December 25, 2007). In the first incident, a zookeeper was bitten on the arm during a public feeding. During the second incident, in which two people were injured and one killed, police officers fatally shot the tiger.
On May 28, 2016, a 4-year-old boy climbed through a public barrier at Gorilla World at around 4pm at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and fell into the exhibit’s moat. The two female gorillas in the exhibit were recalled immediately, but the third, a male named Harambe, remained in the yard with the child. The Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team responded to the situation by fatally shooting the gorilla.
The following equipment is used by most zoos in the recapture of an escaped animal.