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Missing Leopard Found, Foul Play Suspected

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Nova, a clouded leopard, was found on Friday on the grounds of the Dallas Zoo after a daylong search | Image by Dallas Zoo

The Dallas Zoo’s clouded leopard has been found after briefly going missing on Friday, but authorities believe her excursion may have been the result of damage done purposefully to her habitat.

“We are thrilled to report we located clouded leopard Nova on-grounds at the Zoo this afternoon,” the zoo posted on Twitter.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, a Code Blue alert was issued on the morning of January 13 when it was discovered that the clouded leopard, called Nova, was not in her enclosure.

A Code Blue indicates that a non-dangerous animal is not in its proper location; Harrison Edell, vice president for animal care at the zoo, explained that clouded leopards are much smaller than other leopards, and pose very little danger to humans.

The Dallas Zoo closed as authorities sought Nova, who had apparently escaped the enclosure she shares with her sister Luna through a tear in the mesh.

“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 wrote on Twitter at around 10:20 a.m. “The Zoo is closed today as our teams work to find and recover the animal.”

“Given the nature of these animals, we believe the animal is still on grounds and hiding,” a further post added.

The Dallas Police Department, which worked with zoo staff to search for Nova, said during a news conference on Friday afternoon that it had opened a criminal investigation into her disappearance.

Officials stated at the conference that it seemed the mesh around Nova’s enclosure had been cut rather than torn open by the escapee.

“We found a suspicious opening in the habitat wall in front of the exhibit,” Dallas Zoo president Gregg Hudson said. “It was clear that this opening was not exhibit failure and it wasn’t keeper error.”

“It is their (Dallas Zoo officials’) belief and it is our belief that this was an intentional act, so we have started a criminal investigation,” added DPD Sgt. Warren Mitchell.

Police did not speculate on who may have intentionally damaged the mesh or their potential motive.

If the damage was purposeful, whether to steal the cat or release it, Edell emphasized that Nova is not intended to be a pet.

Clouded leopards are considered a vulnerable species, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, defined by the World Wildlife Foundation as facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

“This is a cat of conservation concern. This is not a pet — she’s a critically important member of our family at Dallas Zoo,” Edell noted. “She means a lot to us.”

Nova was found later that afternoon on zoo grounds at about 4:40 p.m., unharmed.

“She was first seen very near the original habitat, and teams were able to safely secure her just before 5:15 p.m.,” zoo spokeswoman Kari Streiber said on Friday after Nova was located.

“Initial indications are she is not injured. She is being evaluated by our veterinary staff right now. We’ll provide further updates on her status tomorrow.”

When Nova first escaped, Dallas Zoo’s Edell said that these cats are attached to their “home territory” and that she and her sister were near-inseparable.

He guessed Nova had most likely climbed a tree, possibly frightened.

“More likely than not, when she’s scared, she is going to climb a tree, stay out of our way, hunt some squirrels and birds, and hope not to be noticed,” he explained.

“We did locate the tear in the mesh she used to leave the habitat, but thinking like a cat, she likely went straight up in the trees and has not come down.”

Local media captured aerial footage of employees lifting a heavy object, presumably Nova, in a white bag from a tree-filled area of the zoo shortly after the announcement she was found.

The zoo was closed on Friday during the search, with initial plans in place to keep the area of the zoo that houses the clouded leopard habitat closed on Saturday but reopen the rest of the grounds.

Though Nova has been located, zoo officials have not specified if this is still the case or if the zoo will now operate normally on Saturday.

Nova and Luna came to Dallas in 2021 at about 4 years old, having spent the first years of their lives in the Houston Zoo.

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Mike Shirejian
Mike Shirejian
13 days ago

Publicity stunt?

Sandra
Sandra
Reply to  Mike Shirejian
13 days ago

Really? Shut the entire zoo down and loose that day’s revenue… for publicity. Possible safety concern, reputation damaging publicity because now Mom’s with small children don’t feel it’s safe for their kids. No. Not a publicity stunt.

Leslie Noe
Leslie Noe
Reply to  Mike Shirejian
13 days ago

Seriously doubt it. The Dallas Zoo doesn’t need to add publicity of this type to their already long standing history of “negligence” in caring for the animals in their stewardship.

RiverKing
RiverKing
Reply to  Mike Shirejian
13 days ago

More likely a stupid prank or, to be more accurate, vandalism. If it were a planned publicity stunt by some organization like PETA, they’d have put out press releases to all media bragging about having freed one leopard. If you’re suggesting a publicity stunt by the Dallas Zoo, they don’t need bad publicity as Lelie pointed out earlier.