About the Colony

Mishaps at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero

The entry sign at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero.
The entry sign at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

To nobody’s surprise, wild animals and humans don’t mix.

That was the fascination with lion tamers in the ring with wild cats. Everyone knew all the lion wanted to do was eat the man with the whip and a chair — I never quite understood the chair in that act.

It was with interest that I followed the incident where the 4-year old boy fell into the enclosure that held a 400-pound gorilla. I don’t think those in charge at the Cincinnati Zoo had any choice but to shoot the 17-year old gorilla. Think of the angry folks who’d be out there if they didn’t kill the gorilla and the child was hurt or killed.

And then, of course, there’s the incident just last week when a child was pulled into the water by an alligator.

Tragic accidents all.

That got me to thinking of the unusual incidents that have happened at Atascadero’s own Charles Paddock Zoo.

One of the earliest occurences I remember is when I first joined the newspaper staff at the Atascadero News, sometime in 1972 or ’73.

Someone broke into the zoo and stole an 8-foot-long alligator. Most everyone thought it would be found in the creek or the lake. It was never seen again. It was a clean getaway by whoever was tough enough to steal an alligator. It seems safe to speculate that there must have been more than one person involved.

Then there was a time when a chimpanzee got out of its cage. Chuck Paddock told me the story, but I don’t remember the year this happened. The chimpanzee wandered into a nearby neighborhood, and by the time sheriff’s deputies tracked it down it was pounding on a woman’s house. Thinking someone would get hurt, the chimp was shot and killed.

Another time, someone got into the zoo and killed one of the pink flamingos.

When I first moved to Atascadero, I heard a lion’s deep roar in my neighborhood. I discovered the animal about a thousand feet from my place. It was in a small enclosure next to a house. When I asked Paddock about it, he said he had given it to the folks who lived there when the lion was still a cub. They kept it in the house until it got so huge it was breaking things like furniture. They finally moved it outside — but right against the house.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.