By Meg Jones
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE The dispatcher's call was nondescript
some sort of spill in the busy Zoo Interchange so it
wasn't until firefighters showed up that they found out the
malodorous mess was more than just a fuel leak.
Picture the entire contents of the Milwaukee County Zoo's
Monkey Island moat 2,000 gallons of water mixed with
monkey feces, algae, goose dung and pungent bits of food discarded
by the island's finicky inhabitants dumped across three
lanes of U.S. 45.
What to do?
For the firefighters of the nearest station, Engine 25 on
S. 84th St., they probably wished Tuesday had been their day
"This is a first for monkey poop, and I'm laying odds
it's the last," said Fire Capt. Ralph Gallow, who has
responded to many highway messes in his 20 years as a firefighter.
The simian sludge poured out of a county parks vacuum truck
when four hydraulic latches gave way and a door opened, gurgling
the dark brown/black mix onto the expressway around 10:45
The mess snarled traffic, prompted motorists to plug their
noses and closed down the entire southbound section of U.S.
45 and the eastbound I-94 ramp to southbound I-894/U.S. 45
for three hours. All lanes reopened by 2:30 p.m.
When Gallow and his crew pulled up to the scene a Milwaukee
County sheriff's deputy told them they were stepping in it.
"You look at this stuff it's unbelievable. We
probably have a half-mile stretch, three lanes across of monkey
(excrement)," Gallow said. "I mean, what do you
do with all of it?"
A street sweeper was used to suck up as much as possible
before firefighters hosed down the remainder into two drains.
Then a bleach solution was sprayed across the highway to neutralize
the smell and residual fecal matter.
As for the odor? "Well, we stayed upwind," said
Tom Ulatowski, a heavy equipment operator for Engine 25. "It
didn't smell too good when you were driving through it."
However, it wasn't the worst the firefighters had whiffed.
"It was not putrid. It wasn't like, 'Oh my God, dead-body-for-a-week-and-a-half
in 90-degree heat,' " Gallow said. "It wasn't anything
Twice a year, the moat around Monkey Island is drained, scrubbed
with bleach and filled with fresh water while the 23 Japanese
macaques, or snow monkeys, hang out in their inside holding
quarters. The monkeys are penned up during the two-day process;
otherwise, they could escape by scampering across the dry
moat, said Milwaukee Zoo public relations coordinator Jennifer
The moat contents are aired out, then sucked into the vacuum
truck and taken to a hazardous waste dump site in Franklin,
said Sue Black, county parks director. That's where the truck
was heading Tuesday when it dumped the mess.
By the time it's drained, the moat, which the monkeys, ducks,
geese and peacocks often use as a commode, can get quite rank.
The macaques, which produce about as much daily waste as a
9-month-old human, eat monkey chow, apples, oranges, lettuce
and other vegetables.
"It's similar to having a sewage backup in your basement,"
No other vehicles were involved in the mishap, and there
were no injuries, said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kim
As for the firefighters, who used 12 gallons of industrial
bleach and as much as 7,500 gallons of water to clean up the
mess, the call provided a lot of unprintable puns and quips.
They carefully cleaned their water hoses which had
been dragged through the muck washed the monkey feces
off their boots and went back to their firehouse in time for
a lunch of pork chops, salad and biscuits.