Rick Swope was at the Detroit Zoo enjoying the sights and sounds with his wife and three children back in 1990. He wasn’t planning on being a hero when he woke up that day, but fate decided otherwise.
Now a 135-pound chimpanzee named Jojo owes his life to Rick.
The chimp’s quarters were set up with water nearby. Cables were set up to prevent the animals from falling into the water and hurting themselves or drowning. But 18-year old Jojo was being chased by another chimp and accidentally skidded into the water.
The cables didn’t save him.
Rick watched as the chimp began to drown. Zoo staff looked on helplessly, unsure what to do while remaining safe themselves.
The water was inside the animal enclosure, a no-trespassing area for patrons. Rick made a bold decision. Instead of turning away while the animal died, he jumped into the enclosure to rescue Jojo.
A 33-year old truck driver is typically no match for an adult chimp. Chimps can be five times stronger than humans, and Jojo wasn’t the only animal in there. If the animals became aggressive, it’s likely Rick would have been harmed.
Rick splashed into the water that, although only five feet deep, was murky and difficult to see through. He grabbed the animal, slipped, and then grabbed again. He pulled Jojo out of the water and onto the shore while onlookers applauded.
Rick was unharmed.
“He was looking at me. I think he knew what was going on,” Rick stated after the miraculous rescue.
“He was pretty lifeless, but you could see he was still alive,”
I’ve been to the zoo many times in my life and I have never witnessed a story like Rick’s. I’m not sure what I would have done in his position. While I would desperately want to save the animal, I would be concerned about my own safety.
Luckily Rick didn’t hesitate. He made a quick decision and the risk paid off. He walked away from the zoo that day a hero to his family, zoo staff, visitors, and especially Jojo.
His humble response: “It was no big deal, you know. It didn’t take an exceptional person to do it. If it did, I couldn’t have done it.”
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