Man dives into zoo enclosure when staff refused to save a helpless, drowning chimpanzee

A truck driver named Rick Swope probably never imagined he’d ever jump into a zoo enclosure, let alone one inhabited by potentially deadly animals. But when he took his family to the Detroit Zoo one fine day in 1990, that’s exactly what happened. Swope and his family were at the chimpanzee exhibit when a fight broke out between Jo-Jo and another, more aggressive, male. During the chase, Jo-Jo slipped and fell into the protective moat. Chimpanzees can’t swim and the water in the moat was deep enough that Jo-Jo was going to drown if nothing was done. As Swope recalled, “It was the most pitiful thing I ever saw. This chimp had his hands up and his head was sticking out of the water. He was looking at the crowd. It was like he wanted someone to rescue him.”

Casting aside all fear, Swope leaped into the chimpanzee enclosure and dove into the moat. On his first try, he lost his grip on the 135 pound chimp. Zoo staff begged him to get out but the other visitors were cheering him on. “People were showing me which direction he was in. The water was so dirty you couldn’t see through it. I swam around on the bottom. Finally I found him.” Swope managed to drag Jo-Jo up onto the bank. “He was pretty lifeless, but you could see he was still alive. He was looking at me. I think he knew what was going on.” Just before the other, more aggressive chimpanzee could get at him, the heroic truck driver managed to clamber out to safety.

Why did Rick Swope take such a crazy risk? “Well, you see, I happened to look into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man, and the message was, ‘Won’t anybody help me?'”

We’ve posted the heart-pounding video of this chimpanzee rescue below. Let us know what you thought of Rick Swope’s heroics in the Facebook comments. Like and share, too!