Sometimes, it seems like humans really do rule the animal kingdom. We’re at the top of the food chain. We’ve made weapons that help us maintain our place there, and we even build pretty awesome stuff to make our lives comfortable.

However, animals have a way of reminding us that, despite all our accomplishments, we don’t always have our ducks in a row.

In the wake of Monday’s tiger Packard Plant escapade, we’ve decided to dig into some Detroit history and find other instances where animals enjoyed a little freedom in Detroit, if only for a short while.

1. Jefferson’s Bid For Freedom

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

It seems that animals just don’t want to face the slaughterhouse, and who can blame them? In 2003, Jefferson, a young steer, broke loose on his way into an Eastern Market slaughterhouse. He ran for miles through Detroit along some of the city’s busiest streets. Detroit police finally put an end to Jefferson’s escape attempt with a tranquilizer dart in a vacant lot on E. Jefferson.

After a few rounds of negotiation, Jefferson was sent to SASHA Farm, the Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals near Manchester.

2. Oh Deer! Look What’s Invaded Belle Isle (And Sometimes The Neighborhood)

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Belle Isle was once home to over 400 European fallow deer. The deer arrived on the island in the late 1800s, and for a while, they roamed the entire island. Until relatively recently when the Belle Isle Conservancy moved 25 of the deer to a large pen or moved to another location for their own health, it wasn’t unheard of for the free-range deer to occasionally make it across the river or over the bridge and into the east side neighborhood.

3. Katie The Lioness Rescued From A Suspected Crack House (And Soon After, Percival The Lion Found In An Abandoned House)

In 1992, Katie, a lioness, was rescued from a suspected crack house in Detroit. Apparently, the residents of the house thought that a guard dog wasn’t intimidating enough. They wanted a guard lion. Fortunately, Katie was rescued and taken to the Detroit Zoo before she did serious damage.

A year later, Percival was rescued from the basement of an abandoned house. He, too, was taken to the zoo, where he enjoyed the larger habitat and presence of other lions. Above is a video with him enjoying a birthday cake fit for a lion, consisting of fish and a whole chicken.

4. A Hippo Goes For A Dip In The Detroit River


On Monday, June 23, 1863, G.F. Bailey’s circus was on its way to Detroit. The elephants and hippopotamus accompanying the circus had to be shipped across the river separately from the other animals because of their weight. The hippo’s cage, however, was sent by land.

As the boat neared the shore, the hippo saw his opportunity to test the waters of the Detroit River. He jumped overboard and plunged into the river. The hippo’s keeper, an Egyptian man named Ali, was distraught. The hippo’s owner, who had just seen $40,000 jump overboard, was equally upset.

Ali lowered a rowboat into the river and rowed toward the hippo, who had finally surfaced. Just as Ali neared him, the hippo dove again and resurfaced a while later closer to the Detroit shore. Ali chased the hippo in the river for a while, but when all seemed lost, he returned to the ship. Ali called for his dog, a huge mastiff he had trained to sleep in the hippo’s cage. It’s safe to say that the hippo and the dog were fast friends.

The dog got into the boat with Ali, who proceeded to row toward the hippo again. When the hippo surfaced, the dog jumped into the water and swam toward him. The hippo, upon seeing the dog, swam in his direction. When the animals met, they swam around each other happily. Finally, the dog struck out for shore, and the hippo followed him. Ali, not far behind, landed his boat on the Detroit shore and secured the hippo until the boat could reach land.

Now that’s a way to start a workweek. Just imagine how many news helicopters would be in the air for that one if that happened today!

5. Chum’s Romp Around Detroit

In late July and August of 2013, residents of Detroit’s northeast side reported seeing a large cat that looked like a leopard prowling their neighborhoods. There were tall tales told by residents of a cat as large as a man. The Michigan Humane Society looked into the claims, but no one could ever find the cat. The animal was actually Chum, a 3-year-old, 25-pound African serval cat hybrid (known as a Savannah cat).

Chum’s owners kept him as an exotic pet, and reported him missing a few weeks after he escaped through a bathroom window. The owners contacted Paws for the Cause, a Detroit feral cat rescue group. Paws headed up the search operation, but they were too late.

Tragically, Chum had been shot to death and his body dumped in a garbage can. Paws has not been able to discover who killed the cat. The moral of this sad tale is twofold. Owners, contact rescue organizations as soon as you realize your pet is missing. Neighborhood residents, please don’t shoot animals. Contact a rescue organization or the Michigan Humane Society.

6. The Sheep That Made A Break For It Down 8 Mile

In October 2013, as sheep were being headed to a slaughterhouse in Detroit, one decided it wasn’t going to idly stand by and let itself be killed. The sheep made a break for it and was seen running along the northern edge of Detroit. With a purple stripe down its back and numbered tag in its ear, the sheep tried in vain to hide.

It ran down E. 8 Mile Rd. and turned onto Van Dyke. The poor thing then ran into Nortown Collision & Glass Co., where workers subdued it. However, the sheep tried to make another escape attempt, only to be foiled by a reinforced glass door. Animal control workers picked the sheep up and took it to Detroit’s animal control center. Presumably, the sheep was returned to its owners.

Detroit: The Occasional Concrete Jungle

In our highly urban world, it’s uncommon for people and wild animals like lions or hippos to mix. It’s also uncommon, but not quite as scary, when we see farm animals trotting down Woodward. Because people sometimes do dumb things like use lions as “watchdogs” or take a tiger to an unauthorized photo shoot, there are bound to be more occurrences of animals loose in Detroit. Please remember – don’t approach the animals, and notify either a rescue group or the police as soon as possible.

The moral of the story is that this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, some sort of wild or exotic animal encounter happens around here. Incidents like #TigerWatch15 has happened before throughout Detroit’s history … and almost everyone will all tweet, status and write about it when something like it happens again, just like they probably would of if social media had existed in 1863.

Thanks for keeping it weird, Detroit.

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