what to know
- The Dallas Zoo discovered that Nova, a clouded leopard, was not in his habitat on Friday morning.
- Clouded leopards are small cats, about the size of a medium-sized dog and weighing around 30 pounds.
- The zoo is closed while the search for Nova is ongoing. Zoo officials believe the animal is still on zoo property.
Dallas police are helping search the Dallas Zoo on Friday for a missing clouded leopard, a small cat that poses no threat to humans, that escaped its habitat overnight.
The Dallas Zoo posted on social media on Friday morning that the zoo is closed due to a serious situation – a Code Blue, which indicated that a non-dangerous animal was out of its habitat.
“One of our clouded leopards was not in its habitat when the team arrived this morning and is currently missing,” the zoo said in its statement. “The zoo is closed today as our teams work to find and recover the animal.”
The zoo identified the missing clouded leopard as Nova and said she escaped her habitat through a tear in the mesh enclosure she shares with her sister Luna. Dallas Police Sgt. Warren Mitchell said the tear was not caused by the animal and that investigators believe it was intentionally cut.
Harrison Edell, vice president of animal care at the Dallas Zoo, said Friday morning that clouded leopards are dramatically different animals from other leopards. They are much smaller, weigh about 30 kilograms and pose no danger to people.
Edell said that while Nova could have been scared, it is more likely that she climbed a tree to get out of the way, hunt squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed.
Since it’s winter and there are far fewer leaves on the trees, Edell said this should make finding Nova easier. While staff are looking at trees from the ground using binoculars, clouded leopards are very good at hiding. He added that Dallas Police are assisting in the search by scanning the treetops with drones equipped with infrared technology.
The zoo said it believes Nova is still inside the zoo and hiding. The clouded leopard habitat is in Primate Place, in the northwest part of the zoo, just north of Clarendon Drive.
If the cat is seen outside the zoo, Edell warned that while it is not dangerous to people, it is still a wild animal and people should not try to capture it themselves.
“If you happen to see a cat that’s bigger than a house cat, smaller than a bobcat, we’d love a heads up. And photos are always helpful too to make sure we know what we’re looking at. So if people have the opportunity than taking a picture of a cat that looks bigger than usual, we’ll take any tip we can,” Edell said.
The zoo added in a statement on Friday afternoon: “To put some minds at ease, if she has left the grounds, this animal is no greater pet risk than the animals native to North Texas that roam the neighborhoods. neighbors, but if you feel more comfortable bringing pets inside, please do.”
Nova and Luna were brought to the Dallas Zoo in 2021 after being bred at the Houston Zoo, according to our partners at The Dallas Morning News.
The zoo is closed on Friday while searches for the animal are ongoing.
WHAT IS A CLOUD LEOPARD?
According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, clouded leopards are native to Southeast Asia and are a vulnerable species. Male cats weigh up to 50 pounds, while females are smaller and weigh 25-35 pounds.
Cats have large paws and are very adept at climbing and are one of the few animals that can head down trees.
“Clouded leopards are not a ‘type’ of leopard as the name implies. They are a separate species of wild cat, as are snow leopards and leopards,” reports the Smithsonian.
Cats are carnivores that stalk their prey in trees and attack from above. The Smithsonian said that, in the wild, a clouded leopard eats gibbons, monkeys, slow lorises, small deer and wild boar.
According to a map from the Dallas Zoo, the habitat of the gibbon is adjacent to the habitat of the clouded leopard.
They are mostly nocturnal and have an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. With human care, cats can live 17 years, the Smithsonian said.
ESCAPES OF ANIMALS FROM THE PAST AT THE DALLAS ZOO
In 2004, a 13-year-old gorilla named Jabari climbed through a 14-foot wall and injured four people before being shot by Dallas police. Following this incident, the zoo tightened security measures at the exhibit.
In 2010, Tufani the gorilla escaped her locked quarters and was caught by a zoo worker preparing food behind a closed door. The zoo tranquilized Tufani and returned her to her living area within an hour. No injuries were reported.
In 2011, Koko, a chimpanzee at the Dallas Zoo, was sedated after briefly escaping her enclosure. The animal stayed in an area not open to the public. No injuries were reported.
Two weeks after Koko’s escape, also in 2011, a spider monkey briefly escaped its enclosure and stayed on top of its habitat for about half an hour. Zoo officials said at the time that the animal had basically “left the room but was still in the house”. The spider monkey’s escape was attributed to human error. No injuries were reported.
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