Read, Write, Run, Roam

Legends of Belgrade, Part III: Sami the Chimp

For my third Belgrade Animal Week post, I thought I’d write something more uplifting about the zoo: the Legend of Sami the Chimpanzee.

Sami arrived at the Belgrade zoo in 1988. There’s a rumor that he was a German family pet before his, um, amorous advances at home led him to the zoo. He quickly tired of life behind bars: the jeering tourists, the bad food, and his neighbor’s incessant discussions about bananas, poop, and how “it was all better in the circus, man.” He hatched a plan to escape and sample Belgrade’s famous nightlife.

It worked. In the third week of February, 1988, Sami ran away. He wandered around Dorcol until the zoo director collected him from a rooftop and took him back to his cage via taxi. I guess Sami liked to arrive in style-or the director didn’t want chimp teeth marks in his car. Radio stations and TV crews covered his escape and capture, but I can’t find footage of this online.

Two days later, Sami escaped again., citing an Ivan Kovacevic essay, highlights that “thousands of people gathered in the streets, shouting: Sami, we won’t let them catch you!, Watch out, Sami!, Sami, don’t come down!” and even carrying protest signs with “Sami, we’re with you!” and “Monkey to the people!” slogans.”

Sami didn’t go back without a fight. No one was injured, but he was sedated for his return home. According to this school newspaper article (great source, right?), Sami got over his harried escape with antibiotics and hot tea. Sounds like a hangover remedy. I’m not so sure Sami wasn’t at a local pub, downing a few Jelen and hitting on ribe.

The incidents brought attention to the zoo, and to its now-famous resident. Sami became known as “the Dorcol fugitive,” and “the Belgrade dissident.” These sound a bit rude in English, but trust me-Sami was a star. His antics captured the hearts of Beogradjani, who were, in their own way, striving for freedom.

Sami may have even inspired the awesome 80’s Serbian pop song, “Sami, let’s be alone.” Okay, maybe he didn’t, but it’s still a catchy tune.

Sami died in 1992, but he is far from forgotten. His statue stands in the Belgrade zoo to this day, and his exploits may have inspired primates across the world. In 2007, Oliver the monkey made his second escape from an American zoo in Mississippi. And in 2009, not one, but thirty chimps broke out of their enclosure in a UK zoo to raid the kitchen. Sami would have been proud.

Many thanks to for their prior research on this subject.


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