As It Happens

California police responded to a 911 call. This baby monkey was to blame

Lisa Jackson, assistant director of Zoo to You, was going about some regular business at the rescue compound in Paso Robles on Saturday and had no idea the 10-month-old capuchin monkey accidentally called the emergency line — until police arrived.

'I knew it was Route,' said the mischievous capuchin's keeper

Monkey holding her foot with her hand.
Route the capuchin monkey got a police response after dialling 911. Her keeper, Lisa Jackson, says she wasn't surprised — Route has been known to swipe through photos on her phone. (Lisa Jackson)

Story Transcript

Calling 911 for a false emergency can land a person in some pretty hot water. 

But police in California were a little more forgiving when they discovered a 911 call they responded to had been placed by a mischievous monkey. 

"They said it was much better coming to where they thought there was something wrong and winding up with a smile on their face," said Lisa Jackson, assistant director of Zoo to You, in an interview with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner. 

Jackson was just going about some regular business at the rescue compound in Paso Robles on Saturday and had no idea what had happened – until the police showed up at her door. 

It all began when Jackson took Route the capuchin monkey along with her in a golf cart to do some work around the grounds.

Keeper not entirely surprised 

"She was just kind of a passenger in my cart, and we're cruising along, and she grabbed the phone," Jackson said.

It wasn't entirely out of character for the 10-month-old monkey.

"She's always inquisitive and so I thought nothing of it. Took the phone, put it back, and then her and I went about our business."

A monkey sitting on a table beside a kangaroo.
Route with her kangaroo friend at Zoo to You. (Lisa Jackson)

It wasn't till about an hour later that the sheriff's department showed up at the zoo.

There was some confusion. The police insisted a 911 call had come from the zoo — from the zoo phone. Since the call dropped and there was no reply when they tried to call back, they visited to make sure everything was OK. 

"And right then, I knew it was Route," said Jackson. "I was like, 'Oh, you've got to be kidding me. I can't believe she did that.'"

Jackson wasn't entirely shocked, though. She says monkeys, especially capuchin, are very smart and learn by observation. 

"I see she uses her hands to swipe [the phone] and she'll see that it changes images and it keeps her entertained."

And they have thumbs. Useful, it would seem, when it comes to dialling. But even Jackson said she was surprised the monkey managed to dial 9-1-1 in sequence. 

"Let's say I have a phone number up on the phone. I could see her accidentally, you know, calling a friend or somebody."

A close up side profile of a Caputian monkey.
Route's keeper says capuchins are very smart and learn from watching others. Still, she says she was surprised the monkey got the sequence of numbers right. (Lisa Jackson)

Came to the zoo as rescue

Capuchin monkeys are native to South and Central America. Jackson says Route came to the Zoo to You rescue compound as a baby after her parents were confiscated as illegally owned pets. 

She says Route has learned to be mischievous, and will run and hide if she knows she has snatched something important to her human. In fact, her mischievous streak extends past this prank call — she has also been known to mess up the piles of leaves Jackson rakes when cleaning the kangaroo area.

"She comes over and gets in them and acts like it's snowing and throws them in the air like, 'Whoo, look at me!' It ruins my piles and I have to start over."

But Jackson says the monkey won't get any punishment for calling the police. She, on the other hand, will change her own behaviour.

"When this is all over, I'm going to have to get a fanny pack with a very good zipper – because Route can unzip things, too."

Written by Stephanie Hogan. Interview produced by Aloysius Wong. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now