A Guinea baboon in the Paris zoo.
A Guinea baboon in the Paris zoo. Mathae/CC ASA 3.0

6:45 p.m on a Friday. In the Paris zoo, a staff member was drawing a diagram in red and green marker, like an army general mapping out a plan of attack. On it, four key areas were marked: Enclosure, Lodge, Corridor, “Big Rock.” The Big Rock, called the Grand Rocher, is a vast, reinforced concrete structure measuring over 210 feet high at its uppermost point. Two water reservoirs are concealed beneath it. Resembling something from the Lion King, its twin peaks loom large over the zoo—a faux-African centerpiece, normally dotted with peaceful caprine beasts. Tonight, however, three intruders have taken it for themselves—two females baboons, one with a baby. They are the final hold-outs of a group of 50 that escaped their enclosure earlier in the day.

A brave soul manning the Zoo de Paris Twitter account explained what would happen next. “The Grand Rocher covers a very large area. The wait for the animals’ return to the rest of their group may be a long one,” they wrote. Two by two, the zookeepers will watch for them all night long.

Precisely how these Guinea baboons, highly communicative primates that live in troops of up to 200, got out remains a mystery. (“We still don’t know how the baboons escaped,” the Twitter account proclaimed. “The first step is getting them back into their cage—the analysis comes after that.”) But 50 of them came out of their enclosure, and then swarmed around the Grand Rocher, shutting down the zoo in the process. The public had to be sent home. Baboons could be unpredictable, especially when stressed, officials told The Guardian. “They’re stronger than us.”

Emergency services were called to the scene. Vets and keepers teamed up with officials armed with tranquilizer darts—though these would not prove necessary. Instead, the “group effect” came to the fore, zoo officials said. “These animals have a real herd mentality.” In time, 47 were rounded up and returned to their enclosure. Not a single animal was hurt.

As of press time, those three lone baboons are still staking their claim to the Grand Rocher. Their return seems inevitable, officials said. “The dominant males have already gone back.” The females, and the baby, will likely follow. In the meantime, however, the sweet call of freedom is still ringing in their ears, high on an artificial rock overlooking Paris.