Visitors to the Belgrade Zoo are sure to find an unusual monument next to the monkey cages. That’s the monument dedicated to Sami, a chimp who managed to escape from the Zoo in the second part of the eighties, not once but twice. After those escapes, he became famous and a Belgrade zoo favorite, making his way into various city urban legends.
Here’s what I managed to find about him and his escapes on the net.
Lady who claims to have worked in the Zoo at that time writes at Leksikon Yu Mitologije that he was “an unusually strong chimp, extremely intelligent… a philosopher. He didn’t feel as he was one of the chimpanzees. Sami was at the wrong place, behaving just like a homo-sapiens.”
On February 23rd, 1988, Sami made his first escape and according to many witnesses, caused a real chaos at the streets of Dorcol. As the radio stations reported of his escape and updated live on the attempts to capture him, hundreds of citizens gathered to support the chimp in his fight for freedom.
Much like in the case of Belgrade Phantom some years earlier, some Serbian thinkers regard this kind of behavior as a sort of mutiny against the dull and repressing communist society at the time. According to Ivan Kovacevic and his essay on the subject (Ivan Kovacevic, Semiologija mita i rituala III, 2001, page 21) “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. Kovacevic tries also to make a connection between the monkey and the slang word for 10 dinar bill which was also called “monkey” but that’s pushing it too far, I think.
What is interesting, however is the fame this brought not only to Sami, but to the Belgrade Zoo as well, and its eccentric and controversial manager Vuk Bojovic, who was the only person Sami allowed to come near – Bojovic claims that after one such escape he and Sami took a cab ride back to the Belgrade Zoo. The Zoo got much media attention which was used to pour some money into it and temporarily improve the dreadful conditions the animals were forced to live in at the time. As covered in this article from before, the Belgrade Zoo and it’s animals are today, thanks to ongoing bad economic situation, but also thanks to manager’s stubbornness again in trouble.
Sami passed away in 1992, probably unable to confront with all the misery the sanctions and the wars in the nineties brought to Serbia, but remains a part of the Serbian urban legends and a symbol of freedom and disobedience in Belgrader’s minds.