Leopard escapes at Utah zoo, visitors take shelter

Hundreds of zoo visitors took shelter inside buildings Tuesday morning while Salt Lake City zoo staff searched for a leopard that escaped its enclosure.

The 4-year-old female leopard was spotted by zoo visitors sleeping on a high outdoor ledge in a public area about one or two feet from its exhibit, said Hogle Zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen. No visitors were injured. The rare Amur leopard, named Zeya, was tranquilized, Hansen said.

The leopard is safe, said Nancy Carpenter, associate director of animal health at the zoo. The animal fell about three feet after getting tranquilized, and landed in a padded garden area.

Hansen said they don't yet know how or when the leopard escaped, but officials are investigating the incident. The animal was put into a crate and transported to a holding area and the zoo has reopened.

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 really did feel in danger," Jones said.

The leopard was reported missing at 9:30 a.m. It was captured about an hour later, Hansen said.

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 has only been at the zoo for a few years. She was brought in to mate with the other Amur leopard, she said.

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.

Hansen said it is rare for animals to get loose at the zoo. She said there was an incident a few years back when a wolf got out of its enclosure.

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.

The lines outside the Utah zoo were very long with people who weren't able to get in because of the lockdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last inspected the zoo on May 3 and found no violations.
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