SALT LAKE CITY — A rare leopard at a Salt Lake City zoo escaped to a nearby high beam by squeezing through a small opening in the steel-grade mesh on top of her enclosure, officials said.
Hogle Zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen said Wednesday that a security team investigating the escape found a trail of leopard hair around the 6-inch-by-6-inch opening built into the enclosure’s mesh.
“It’s quite a feat,” she said. “A lot of people with cats at home know they can be escape artists, but wow.”
Shortly after the Hogle Zoo opened Tuesday, a visitor spotted the 4-year-old female sleeping on a wooden support beam right above where people would have clustered to watch her, Hansen said.
Hansen said that the tranquilizer has worn off and the Amur leopard has woken up and is in good health.
The zoo plans to move the leopard to a different enclosure that has smaller openings in its mesh.
The animal left visible claw marks on the wooden perch as she hung on briefly before the dart took full effect, but after she was sedated she was transported quickly to a back room.
Visitors said the situation played out calmly, and many returned to the zoo when it re-opened after about an hour. Authorities said they were lucky it happened early, before the zoo was full of visitors, and that the cat was asleep when she was found.
The leopard named Zeya is a petite, 60-pound animal who is one of the smallest leopards the zoo has had in the exhibit. She was brought in recently from a sanctuary in England to mate with the zoo’s other Amur leopard, Hansen said. He is in a separate enclosure and did not escape
Amur leopards are considered critically endangered, according to the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund. There are only about 60 of them left in the wild.
Last month, a zoo in Cincinnati shot and killed a gorilla when a young boy got into its exhibit and was dragged by the 400-pound animal.
While the Utah leopard was quickly contained, if the animal had actively threatened people zoo officials would have used lethal force, Carpenter said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last inspected the Hogle Zoo on May 3 and found no violations.
The federal agency said it’s aware of the incident and plans to look into whether the zoo violated any part of the Animal Welfare Act.