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Kumbuka: what actually happened during the gorilla’s time on the run

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Tristan Cross
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What was your last personal victory? A match on Tinder? Finding out you hadn’t been fired at your appraisal? Managing to jump on your bus seconds before it pulled away? Face it, nothing happens to you. 

That’s why we revel in the victories of others; that vicarious taste of triumph. And there has been no greater victory in recent times than that of Kumbuka, the silverback gorilla who escaped his enclosure in ZSL London Zoo, broke into the zookeeper area and downed five litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash.

And now the details of the maverick's three hour escape have been released by the zoo - specifically Zoological Director, Professor David Field. In a blog on the London Zoo website he provides the details we've all been craving about the fearless escape of London's new favourite primate....

Having been called into his enclosure for a spot of dinner around 5pm, Kumbuka clocked that the door to his area had been left unlocked. In that split-second, Kumbuka had a choice. He could eat his dinner, roam around his den, beat his chest, scratch his butt and eventually fall asleep, like every other night, or he could seize the moment, throw off the shackles of daily life and take this one chance, just one chance, to claim what was rightfully his. And in that moment, Kumbuka did what we’d all do if we could only muster the courage. He broke free.

After breaching the first door, Kumbuka did what Steve McQueen was unable to do after vaulting the first barbed wire fence in The Great Escape, he dashed through the unsecure second into the corridor.

Kumbuka is face-to-face with his zookeepers now, and they’re trying to mask their fright, backing away with a friendly hand out and the other frantically radio-ing for help. They’re going: “Hey there Kumbuka!… (Raise the alarm)… You’re not supposed to be out here now, are you?... Would you be a good boy and get back into your enclosure for me?...  (I SAID NOW, DAMNIT!)”

But Kumbuka’s not ready to relinquish his first refreshing taste of liberty in years that easily, he’s going to take great, greedy gulps of it. And the zookeepers know it. They’re backing off now, until they all make it out of the room to a safe spot. Kumbuka has taken the zookeeper enclosure and claimed it for himself, for freedom, for all of us.

Kumbuka then immediately finds the blackcurrant squash stash and downs five whole litres of it. 

Undiluted.

Just picture the unbridled joy, the unadulterated pleasure on Kumbuka’s face as he necked bottle after bottle of sugary liquid. It’s important to remember here how you feel at the end of every week, worn to a nub by the dull blunt of your relentless 9-5, dashing straight to the closest pint to achieve something approximating a release from everything, at least until Monday.

Now remember that Kumbuka’s 9-5 is actually his entire life. An entire life of aimlessly shuffling round a Perspex box housing a pretend miniature version of where he’s actually supposed to live. Never a moment’s silence from the rotten sticky-mouthed Wotsit-fingered kids bash on the walls of his home, shrieking at him to “do something!” and blinding him with their disposable camera flashes, when all he wants to do is get a moment’s kip.

Think about Kumbuka’s contentedness as the blackcurrant nectar caressed his lips and gently swilled down his throat, an elixir of life, only from Robinson’s. It's a divine image. Infinite Shakespeares on infinite quills couldn’t come close to capturing the exquisite majesty of this one creature's squash experience.

Let the euphoric pride rise and swell within you as you imagine Kumbuka in a world on his own, a world where he can smash back as much squash as he wants, and like fuck is he going to ruin it by diluting it in water.

Sadly, Kumbuka was then tranquilised and moved back to his den, where he was, admittedly, no longer a threat to everyone around him.

Perhaps a happier ending would have seen Kumbuka charter a plane back to his homeland, where he would be reunited with his friends and family, free to spend his time away from the prying eyes of rotten kids. But this is reality, not the movies, and in reality, we ought to treasure those small but genuine victories where we can.

We’re all trapped in our lives in various – often intangible – ways, but the limits of Kumbuka’s world are so restrictive that he can touch them. And he got out. He risked it all for a taste of triumph - and squash. In that brief, glorious moment, alone in the zookeeper’s area and floating serenely along down an endless waterfall of concentrated blackcurrant, Kumbuka – to paraphrase a stirring Morgan Freeman voiceover from The Shawshank Redemption – soared higher and farther than anyone in a grey place dares to dream.

So here's to you, Kumbuka, you fucking legend.

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Tristan Cross

Tristan Cross is the only writer in the UK

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