Sydney baboon escape: police confirm three animals recaptured at Royal Prince Alfred hospital

NSW health minister says the baboons were being transported to RPA so one could have a vasectomy

Three baboons being transported to a major Sydney hospital so one of them could have a vasectomy escaped from their truck on Tuesday afternoon, triggering sightings around the hospital, a police response and widespread interest online.

Callers to Sydney talkback radio station 2GB were first to report they’d seen primates running about the area of the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) hospital, which is just outside the central business district and adjacent to the University of Sydney.

The baboons have been spotted! Details shortly on #9News. #BaboonWatch #SydneyBaboons

📸 - Michael Tran

— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) February 25, 2020

A caller told presenter Ben Fordham that he’d seen three baboons.

“Mate I’m deadset serious, I’m at RPA, I’m six floors up and I was just having a gaze out at the carpark … and there were three baboons in the carpark,” he said. “I’m deadset serious. They even had shiny red bottoms.”

Another caller said her daughter and her daughter’s colleagues had been chasing the animals.

“My daughter is an occupational therapist at RPA and she said ‘yes mum, I’ve just helped wrangle them’,” the caller said.

The incident initially prompted mirth on social media, which increasingly gave way to concern for the welfare of the primates.

New South Wales police confirmed on Tuesday evening that they had recaptured three animals just over an hour after reports first emerged.

“Just after 5.30pm officers from inner west police area command were called to a car park on Missenden Road and Lucas Street, Camperdown, after reports three baboons escaped while being transported,” a NSW police spokesperson said.

“They are currently contained and police are working with experts to safely return them to their facility.

“There is no immediate danger to the public but people are advised to avoid the area,” she said.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, told Guardian Australia on Tuesday that the baboons were on their way to the animal research facilities at RPA from their colony, and had escaped due to a faulty lock on the truck they were travelling in.

The baboon due to undergo the operation was a 15-year-old male, the leader of his troop. He was accompanied by two younger female baboons to keep him calm.

“He was having a vasectomy because there’s no desire for him to continue to breed for the troop, and the other option was to move him from the troop,” Hazzard said.

“This way, he can stay with his family through until old age.”

Hazzard said the baboons were part of a colony bred for research that had been around for about 20 years, but that these particular baboons were not being transported for research.

“I understand they’re extremely well cared for,” he said.

“They are quite placid and behaving themselves far better than one would expect.”

In 2016, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that there was a colony of baboons bred for medical research in western Sydney. The University of Sydney said at the time that research on primates was limited but that “a small number” were still being tested on.

A spokesperson from the University of Sydney told Guardian Australia that they were looking into Tuesday’s incident. NSW Health were contacted for comment.

The Greens senator and animal welfare spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi said on Twitter before the animals were recaptured that she wished them well in their “bid for freedom”.


Greens Spokesperson for Animal Welfare has welcomed the Sydney Baboon's bid for freedom.

"I wish them well," she said.


— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) February 25, 2020

The baboons are not the first animals to have broken from captivity and cause havoc in city surrounds.

Other notable urban escapees include two water buffalo, which escaped from a movie set in Newtown, Sydney in 2014 and chased pedestrians down King Street; two llamas chased by police through the streets of Sun City, Arizona in 2015; and three lions that escaped from a circus on Mindil beach, Darwin in 1984 and caused all kinds of chaos before they were caught – including gatecrashing a wedding in the botanical gardens.


Stephanie Convery

The GuardianTramp

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