In a remarkable display of courage and quick thinking, Rick Swope jumped into a zoo enclosure to save a drowning chimpanzee at the Detroit Zoo during a family day out.
Rick and his family, including his wife and three children, enjoyed their time at the newly opened chimpanzee exhibit, a favorite stop for his children.
They had spent roughly half an hour observing the captivating creatures when a sudden splash in the enclosure caught Rick’s attention.
Jo-Jo, a 135-pound male chimpanzee, had tumbled into the exhibit’s encompassing moat and struggled in the water.
Despite the grave risk involved and the general reluctance of bystanders and zoo staff to intervene, likely due to the potential aggression of the other chimpanzees, Rick felt an undeniable call to action. Defying all odds, he climbed over the four-foot fence and plunged into the water to rescue Jo-Jo.
Rick recounted the tense moment, saying, “Everyone around was just standing there, watching this chimpanzee drown. When he went under for the second time, I knew I had to do something.”
Unbeknownst to many, chimpanzees, due to their minimal body fat, cannot float, rendering them highly susceptible to drowning. Rick didn’t understand why Jo-Jo was in trouble, but he saw a creature in distress, and no one else was stepping forward.
As his adrenaline surged, Rick wrapped his arms around Jo-Jo’s abdomen and began hauling the chimp towards the shore.
He hoped that the pressure on Jo-Jo’s belly might help expel any swallowed water. Given the water’s depth and Jo-Jo’s substantial weight in water, it was a grueling task.
But Rick persevered, understanding that each passing second could mean life or death for Jo-Jo.
“I managed to get him up on the bank, where he lay motionless. However, when he looked at me as I turned him around, I knew he was still alive,” said Rick.
Rick began his journey out of the perilous enclosure only after ensuring Jo-Jo could stay safely on the bank.
Rick’s heroic actions, while labeled as reckless by some zookeepers, were undeniably brave. Earlier in the year, another chimpanzee had drowned in the same moat.
Had Rick not intervened, Jo-Jo would have met a similar fate. Thanks to Rick, he and Jo-Jo lived to share their thrilling tale of rescue.
When asked about his family’s reaction to his daring act, Rick shared, “They’re glad I went in to save him. They wouldn’t expect anything less from their dad.”