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The zoo director tries to convince Sami the chimpanzee to return home after he escaped, 1988


Belgrade Zoo chimpanzee Sami became a media sensation when he managed to escape twice in February 1988. He took a thoughtful walk around Central Belgrade before he was caught after a long "conversation" with the zoo's director, Vuk Bojovic.

Sami was born in 1979 at the Osijek Zoo and Aquarium. He was a well developed specimen with a strong build and a thick coat. Sami arrived at the Belgrade Zoo in January 1988 and was placed in a tight, battered enclosure with a reinforced grid that was nominally capable of holding an adult chimpanzee.

Accustomed to his new unattractive surroundings, Sami exhibited signs of depression and aggressive behavior during his first few weeks at the zoo.

Sami's first escape occurred on a cold Sunday evening of 21 February 1988. Local news indicated that he was looking for a mate as he had no mates in his new enclosure.

Sami left for Balkan Cinema in the city of Belgrade and then to Kalemegdan Park. Before he could reach Kalemegdan Park, police surrounded him at Students' Square.



Vuk Bojovic, the zoo director of Belgrade, was called in to negotiate because he was the only person Sami trusted. According to eyewitnesses, Vuk attempted to persuade Sami to return to his enclosure, saying: "Come on, Sami. Let's go home." He managed to handcuff Sami and take him back to the zoo in his private car.

Two days later, Sami managed to escape once again, easily breaking out of his cage and onto the streets of Belgrade. Soon, he appeared at the nearby Beko factory.

The factory workers tried to capture Sami with a large net but were unsuccessful. Eventually, Sami was taken to a courtyard at 33 Tsar Dusan Street, where he climbed atop a cherry tree and finally a garage.


The news of his escape spread quickly and more than four thousand people came to lend their support to him. Newspaper reports state that "Sami, we are with you!" Like people holding placards with slogans. and "Don't leave yourself to Sami!". The scene was also broadcast on local TV stations.

As shown in these iconic pictures, Vuk Bojovic climbed over the garage and attempted to persuade Sami to return to the zoo with him, this time unsuccessfully. Eventually, he was shot with a drugged dart and recaptured, but not before he had become one of Belgrade's foremost heroes.


Sami died unexpectedly on 11 September 1992 but is far from forgotten. He is remembered today with a bronze statue of the chimpanzee at his cemetery in front of the new and improved zoo house.

After his death, several major Belgrade newspapers praised Sami as "dissident". Signs of solidarity over Sami's escape are echoed by humans caught unhappy in the communist system in then-Yugoslavia, which was in the shadow of the Soviet Union and is still haunted for life by the ghost of its president, Josip Tito.

Sam's escape calls for a fellow spirit among humans, which identifies with his imprisonment. Their escape became a momentary rift in the social fabric. The animal was not complying with its assigned place in the social order, and this line of flight ignited the desires of the citizens of Belgrade just below the surface.

If the Sami were a human, those aligned with him could face arrest, but as a marginalized figure at the edge of the social circle, as an animal, the Sami could be exonerated by the mob. was.

With Sami, the people of Belgrade could imagine that another world was possible. Humans and chimpanzees together leveled the geopolitical ecology for a moment.

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