Greatest Hits: Escaped animals of Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Greatest Hits: Escaped animals of Pittsburgh

A good rogue-animal story requires both weirdness and a relatively happy ending

Photo courtesy of Jill Argall, Humane Animal Rescue’s Wildlife Center director
The nautical bobcat of the Gateway Clipper

In July 1987, three Japanese macaques escaped from Monkey’s Island at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Two were quickly apprehended, but the third proved more slippery. 

His name was Alfie. His great escape lasted six months and spanned three states. 

Alfie survived in the wild by dumpster-diving and relying on the kindness of (human) strangers. If you’re having trouble picturing a Japanese macaque and why folks would feed one, they’re furry, red-faced monkeys known for schvitzing together in hot springs. They’re pretty cute. 

In January 1988, Alfie was traced to the small town of Bridgeport, Ohio, 70 miles from Pittsburgh. He was lured by his pursuers using “fresh fruit scented with fecal matter from other macaques,” a Pittsburgh Zoo official said at the time. Pittsburghers and zoo employees were thrilled; Bridgeporters were bummed to see him go. According to a contemporaneous article from United Press International, T-shirts were made in his honor.  

Alfie then returned to Pittsburgh, where it was discovered he had contracted a form of herpes, and was sent to Florida to receive medical treatment. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune, he was still alive as of 2005. Unkillable. 

No tale of rogue animals will ever rival Alfie’s. It has everything: elusive primates, fecal-scented fruit, Ohio. However, there are a few decent ones that took place in Southwestern Pennsylvania recently. 

On April 3, two goats were spotted on the outside platform of a bridge in Lawrence County, perched more than 50 feet above the Mahoning River. They had escaped from a nearby farm, and through a collaborative effort from PennDOT, the state police, turnpike employees and a big crane, the goats were rescued and returned home. Officials were baffled as to how they got on the ledge, but what matters is they’re safe now. 

Then there was the wild bobcat who made his way onto the Gateway Clipper in March. According to my minimal research, bobcats are decent swimmers, but apparently this one went the “work smarter, not harder” route. He was safely contained, given a clean bill of health and returned to the wild by the Humane Animal Rescue staff. 

“Stu” the turkey took up residence on Washington Road in Mount Lebanon sometime last summer. He had a habit of fearlessly walking through traffic, which is either cute or terrifying depending on your perspective. (I lean terrifying; listen to the This American Life about “Tom the Turkey” for a primer on how evil these things can be.) Predictably (sadly?) Stu died in late March after getting hit by a car, to mixed reviews from his Mount Lebo neighbors. 

There are a number of other stories about rogue animals that have made impressions around town, but frankly they’re either boring or disturbing. A good rogue-animal story requires both weirdness and a relatively happy ending, like being rescued, or getting herpes and getting sent to Florida. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.