Northern Ireland

Belfast's history of exotic animal escapees

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMonarch the lion was tracked down after escaping from the circus

A rare red panda at large from Belfast Zoo was believed to be "taking in the sights of beautiful Glengormley" before being tracked down by staff.

But it wasn't the first wild animal to have gone for a walkabout in Belfast.

Monkeys, lions and even a polar bear have been spotted on the streets - although not all of the runaways were quite what they seemed.

In June 2018, a spider monkey escaped from the zoo.

It ran away on a Saturday afternoon but later that evening was clipped by a car on the M2 motorway in north Belfast and died.

In 2015, two lion-tailed macaques went on the run from the zoo and, two years earlier, six members of the same species also escaped.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionOne monkey was captured in the grounds of Belfast Castle

Back in 1977, the escape of a lion from Fossett's Circus at Grove Theatre on the Shore Road in Belfast was an altogether more terrifying experience for some people.

One woman fainted after encountering Monarch, who was recaptured after half an hour.

She told the BBC: "When I saw it jumping over the yard wall it gave me such a shock."

She was later reintroduced to him after he was caught in an operation that involved armed police officers and even petted the animal in the presence of a BBC camera crew.

Image caption Monarch the lion escaped in Belfast in 1977

Monarch may have only had a short period of freedom, but Mojo the Colobus monkey managed to stay at large for a week after he fled his enclosure following an argument with his father.

Sadly for Mojo, it was decided that he could not be reconciled with his father, Tommy, and so he was shipped off to South Africa's Induna Primate and Parrot Park with his six brothers.

A few years later, a white-nosed coati from Belize followed suit, running way shortly after it arrived at the zoo while being held in quarantine.

Image copyright Other
Image caption A white-nosed coati ran off shortly after it was brought to Belfast Zoo

But nothing quite matches the story of Peter the polar bear, now an exhibit at the Ulster Museum, but who was the subject of an escape scare in 1972.

Peter died that year at the age of 30 and it was decided to hand him over to a taxidermist at the museum.

But moving the 800lb (362kg) beast across the city during the Troubles became one of Belfast's quirkier moments.

The vehicle carrying the animal was stopped at a checkpoint just as the decomposition process began - giving the security forces a bit of a scare with the gaseous sounds and stiffening limbs.

Later that same night, a night watchman at the museum got a similar fright and - on a rare, quiet night during the Troubles - the international press corps were quick to pick up the story of a dead Polar bear on the loose.