FIVE thousand people were evacuated from Chester Zoo on Sunday – and hundreds more turned away – when 30 chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure.
The primates broke out of their secure confines into a keepers’ area where their food is prepared.
Staff experiencing one of the busiest days of the year were forced to shut the 110-acre site as a precaution.
They then attempted to round up the animals, described as very strong and intelligent.
A zoo spokeswoman insisted members of the public were never at risk.
An Irish family visiting Chester was among the visitors in the zoo when the animals escaped at 12.40pm.
They said: "Everybody was told to go because chimpanzees had escaped. We didn't really know what was going on but it was quite scary.
"We were just having lunch and we were told to go into the restaurants and shops, where we stayed for about 45 minutes.
"Luckily we were in there for three hours so we had a good day."
Other visitors were locked in the jaguar enclosure while staff ensured there were no chimps in the public area. One said: "It was quite calm, people were joking about. No-one was really panicking."