DALLAS: The Dallas Zoo's well-honed crisis plan kicked in when a male gorilla escaped from a naturalized habitat, injured three visitors, and was shot and killed by police on March 18.
Marketing director Pam Deutsch was off site and her public information officer on vacation when zoo personnel called "code red" just in time for live shots of fleeing spring-break visitors to hit the early evening news. Both reported to a designated meeting area and began collecting information.
They concentrated on relaying the basic facts in a press conference with zoo and police officials before 10pm newscasts. By the next morning, a donor pledged $1 million for security upgrades to the gorilla habitat.
Baffled zoo officials could find no evidence the next morning of how or where the gorilla had escaped. At press conferences, they asked people who witnessed the escape to come forward with details. "We kept getting confirmation that two teen boys were throwing rocks or big pieces of ice at Jabari [the escaped gorilla]," Deutsch said.
The zoo opened part of its affected "Wilds of Africa" exhibit two days later and promised media videotaping opportunities and interviews with zoo officials. "We went nonstop from 5:15am to 6:30pm," said Deutsch, whose team set up interviews for Weekend Today and seven local TV affiliates. Meanwhile, the Dallas Police Department also fielded reporters' questions about the animal's fatal shooting. "It's not every day we run across a 300-pound gorilla," said Lt. Anthony Williams.
Both organizations confirmed media interest remains high.
"I think as long as we don't have an answer to how he got out, this story will keep going," said Deutsch, who feels most coverage after the first 24 hours was positive. "We really appreciate so many kind thoughts and so many people supporting us at this time, when this is our worst nightmare come true."