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Police investigate after Dallas Zoo missing leopard is found

Leopard Dallas Zoo.png
Posted at 8:32 PM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-14 00:06:43-05

DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Zoo officials said Friday that a missing clouded leopard was found after a daylong search. Evidence was found that the fence of the small cat’s habitat had been “intentionally” cut, police said.

The zoo tweeted that the cat named Nova, who weighs about 20-25 pounds (9-11 kilograms), did not appear injured and was found near her original habitat. The search had closed Texas’ largest zoo to visitors while staff and police combed the 100-acre (40-hectare) grounds.

The zoo announced that Nova had been found just moments after a news conference in which police said a criminal investigation had been opened. Police and zoo officials said they have reviewed surveillance footage but would not say what it showed or whether there were potential suspects.

“It is our belief that this was an intentional act,” Dallas Police Sgt. Warren Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Dallas police at first dispatched SWAT officers to the zoo, not understanding the size of a clouded leopard. Police drones helped search the zoo grounds, including trees. Harrison Edell, executive vice president of animal care and conservation at the Dallas Zoo, said clouded leopards like to climb.

The zoo tweeted earlier in the day that the missing cat was a “serious situation,” but officials said the animal posed no danger.

Another clouded leopard at the zoo, Nova’s sister, did not leave its habitat.

Animals have escaped enclosures from the Dallas Zoo before. Most notably was in 2004, when a 340-pound (154-kilogram) gorilla named Jabari jumped over a wall and went on a 40-minute rampage that injured three people before police shot and killed the animal.

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The Dallas Zoo remained closed on Friday after officials said a clouded leopard escaped from its habitat.

"One of our clouded leopards was not in its habitat when the team arrived this morning and is unaccounted for at this time," the zoo tweeted on Friday.

Zoo officials believe the animal is hiding and has not escaped the grounds.

The Dallas Police Department has been called in to assist in the search.

"Our focus right now is on locating the animal," the zoo stated.

According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, wild clouded leopards are found in Southeast Asia. They can reportedly weigh up to 50 pounds. However, the zoo says the leopard that escaped is about 25 pounds.

"It is bigger than a house cat and smaller than most bobcats," the zoo stated.

Clouded leopards are not considered endangered. However, they are labeled as "vulnerable" species