US: Leopard escapes at Utah zoo; visitors take shelter

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Salt Lake City (US), Jun 8: Hundreds of Salt Lake City zoo visitors took shelter inside buildings after a rare leopard escaped and fell asleep on a beam just above where visitors would have gathered to watch her.

A visitor spotted the 4-year-old female snoozing on the outdoor beam about two feet from the exhibit, Hogle Zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen said yesterday. She told a zookeeper, who raised the alarm.

leopard

An emergency team tranquilised the Amur leopard, packed her into a crate and took her to a holding area. No one was hurt, and the leopard named Zeya is expected to be fine after the tranquiliser wears off, said Nancy Carpenter, associate director of animal health at the zoo.

The animal instinctually hung onto the beam after the tranquiliser dart struck, leaving visible claw marks on the wooden beam. She eventually fell the final three feet to the ground and landed in a garden area between the visitor fence and her mesh enclosure.

Hansen said they don't yet know how or when the leopard managed to get through the tall steel-grade mesh that surrounds the top and sides of her enclosure, but officials are investigating.

The reports of a wild animal on the loose caused quite a commotion on social media, and even spawned a parody Twitter account. The first tweet by the account, HogleZooLeopard, said "I'm finally free!" But zoo visitors who were inside said the situation played out calmly and orderly.

Stephanie Gardner said she was looking at the giraffes at the zoo when a staff member told her and her family to take shelter in the gift shop with about 40 other people because of a situation. She said there was "no chaos or anything."

Steve Jones said he and his family were at the monkey exhibit when zoo staff told them to get inside the bistro. They waited inside with several hundred people. Kids were playing, he said. "We never did feel in danger," Jones, 63, of South Jordan, Utah, said.

The leopard was reported missing at 9:30 am (local time). It was captured, and people were allowed out of buildings about an hour later, Hansen said. It's not clear exactly how long she was out, but zoo staff saw her inside the enclosure at about 7 am (local time).

The animal was spotted outside her enclosure shortly after the zoo opened to the public. There are two Amur leopards at the zoo. Hansen said the other leopard is in a separate enclosure and did not escape.

The leopard that escaped is a petite, 60-pound animal that has only been at the zoo for a few years. She was brought in from a sanctuary in England to mate with the other Amur leopard, she said.

AP

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