SCOTT SIMON, host:
A chimpanzee named Judy escaped from the zoo in Little Rock, Arkansas this week, but she didn't head for the hills. Instead she went to a nearby service area and did a little housekeeping. Ann Rademacher is one of the great ape keepers at the Little Rock Zoo and joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. ANN RADEMACHER (Little Rock Zoo): My pleasure.
SIMON: Judy cleaned a toilet bowl for you guys?
Ms. RADEMACHER: Well, not completely. She did a lot of different things.
SIMON: Oh, you're complaining that she didn't finish it?
Ms. RADEMACHER: Well, yes, actually. No, she did a lot of different things. But one of the things she did is when she entered the bathroom she saw that toilet brush, picked it up without missing a beat and stuck it correctly into the toilet. Her technique was perfect.
SIMON: Was this a case of monkey see monkey do? Forgive that, if that's an offensive phrase for someone in your line of work.
Ms. RADEMACHER: No, no, no. That's sort of a simplification, but actually it probably is. Judy was a former pet. She's 37 years old. She's old enough that chimpanzees were considered okay as pets way back then. And so she was raised in a home. So she probably observed a lot of these normal human household activities as she was growing up.
SIMON: Now, how did she escape?
Ms. RADEMACHER: It was human error. We were doing a morning routine of cleaning and an assumption was made that a cage was empty when in fact it was not.
SIMON: And was she ever in any danger of escaping out into the general population?
Ms. RADEMACHER: No. She was confined in a service area and our capture team had been alerted to the situation and was on call also. But it could've been a potentially dangerous situation, just because chimpanzees are large and very excitable and extremely strong.
SIMON: What have we learned from what Judy did this week? As a great ape keeper, what does that show to you?
Ms. RADEMACHER: Well, Judy's very exceptional and it really touched me. Because, you know, it's been all those years ago, probably, you know, over 30 years ago that she was a pet and normally she would have learned if she were with her chimp mom things like how to build nests and how to fish for termites. And instead of that, she was exposed to what goes on in a human household.
The good part of the story is she's been able to catch up and learn all the chimpanzee behaviors as well. But you know, she retained all that for all these years.
SIMON: But to be a little bit more practical about her, are you going to teach her to do windows?
Ms. RADEMACHER: She has the climbing skills to do it but you know, darn it, she just doesn't follow through. She's very easily distracted.
SIMON: That's the problem with chimpanzees, I understand, isn't it.
Ms. RADEMACHER: Yes.
SIMON: Ms. Rademacher, thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. RADEMACHER: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.