Jaguar escapes enclosure at New Orleans zoo and goes on killing rampage

Zoo officials insist facility is safe for general public after big cat attacks in 'territorial display'

Cleve R. Wootson Jr,Tj Ortenzi
Sunday 15 July 2018 14:32
Audubon Institute describes situation that saw jaguar escape its enclosure

A jaguar at a New Orleans zoo escaped from its enclosure, going on to kill six animals before being captured.

The mammal, from Audubon Zoo, attacked four alpacas, an emu and a fox before being sedated.

It was first reported missing at 7.20am, before the zoo opened, officials said in a press release. By 8.15am it had been spotted, tranquillized and returned to its enclosure.

No humans were injured during the escape, although the circumstances of the incident has sparked concern due to the “Jaguar Jungle’s” proximity to the children’s play area.

In a news conference on Saturday, zoo officials insisted the facility was safe for the general public, even though they wouldn’t reveal how the apex predator managed to break free.

The jaguar, a three-year-old named Valerio, appeared not to have eaten the animals it attacked, but rather was engaged in a “territorial display”, said Kyle Burks, the zoo’s vice president and managing director.

The zoo was closed on Saturday as officials tried to discover how the feline escaped. Grief counsellors were also brought in for traumatised staff.

But the incident was certain to raise questions about the dangers of caging apex predators that have evolved to hunt and kill, and will quickly pounce on prey animals – or humans – if safeguards break down.

In the Spring of 2017, a British zookeeper was mauled to death by a tiger at Hamerton Park Zoo.

In 2016, 38-year-old zookeeper Stacey Konwiser was also killed by a tiger while preparing the “night house” at the Palm Beach Zoo. The house is where the animals are cleaned and fed, then housed overnight.

Also that year, at Beijing Safari World, a woman was injured and her mother killed after getting out of their car.

Such breakdowns, experts have told The Washington Post, aren’t restricted to poorly maintained zoos.

“These accidents happen, you know, on some kind of a recurring basis around the world,” said Doug Cress, chief executive of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “And it’s because you’re dealing with animals that, at their genetic core, are built differently than we might like them to be. They are designed to be wild animals.”

Joel Hamilton, the Audubon Zoo’s vice president and general curator, echoed that sentiment when asked whether there was something particularly aggressive about Valerio.

“He’s a young male jaguar,” Mr Hamilton said. “He was doing what jaguars do. Certainly his behaviour wasn’t out of the ordinary for that kind of an animal.”

Jaguars are opportunistic hunters that prey on more than 85 species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their habitat ranges from the jungles of Central and South America, where they are considered “near threatened” by IUCN, to the southern regions of Arizona and New Mexico, where they are listed as an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Lions and tigers are the only big cats that are bigger than jaguars, making the felines the biggest in the Americas.

Ron Forman, the president and chief executive of Audubon Zoo, said Saturday’s attack was the worst in the zoo’s history, but told the public it was still safe.

“The zoo, it’s been here for 100 years,” Mr Forman said. “In that time period, we’ve had over 100 million visitors to the zoo. We’ve never had an incident like that before. So I think statistically there’s nothing to worry about the safety of coming to the zoo.”

The Washington Post

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