A zoo in the Ozarks puts its emergency plan into place. Searchers spent most of Friday combing the area around Predator World in Branson West. That's where three timber wolves escaped Thursday night. Now the search is on to get those wolves back safely and without hurting anyone in the process.
Around 7:00 p.m. Thursday evening, an animal caretaker went to check on the three timber wolves, and that's when park officials realized they had a problem on their hands. It turns out the wolves broke out of their holding pen, by bending apart the metal cage surrounding it.
Predator World CEO Breck Wakefield says, "I mean, it's everything I can do to bend it even slightly. And they had these bent like spaghetti."
After the wolves broke through the first fence, they then dug under a secondary perimeter fence and escaped into about 1,000 acres surrounding the zoo. Predator World officials say that's made the search very difficult."
"It's completely untouched by man," says Wakefield. "So they can be on a thousand acre track. We're setting up feeding stations, hoping we can get them back closer to here. We don't expect them to be a threat to anybody. They're probably going to try to avoid people at all cost, is what we're expecting."
One of those three wolves was captured fairly quickly and easily and is back in the pen. Now searchers are combing through that vast wilderness. In the process, they're using everything from cameras to night goggles.
Wakefield says wolves have never escaped from Predator World before, but these animals were different. The missing male and female had just arrived this week from another facility. Wakefield believes the fact that the female is pregnant and unfamiliar with these surroundings and animals, had a lot to do with this escape. And it's a reason searchers believe the two will stay together, likely holing up in one of the many caves around that area until she has those cubs.
"Our guess," says Wakefield. "She's trying to find a good place to hole up and have her pups safely."
Park officials say as long as you don't approach the wolves, you should be safe. If you do see them, call the Stone County Sheriff's Department at
KOLR10 News also checked with the Missouri Conservation Department and officials say the facility is up to code and doesn’t have any record of violations. They're helping out in the process, especially since timber wolves are a protected species in Missouri.