A spotted leopard that was among six creatures kept at an Ohio zoo after an exotic animal escape was euthanized after it was hit by a lowering door between two enclosures and suffered a severe spinal cord injury, officials said Monday.
The male leopard had been cared for at the Columbus zoo under a state-issued quarantine order along with two other leopards, two primates and a bear. Their owner committed suicide in October after releasing dozens of tigers, bears and other animals that were subsequently killed by authorities near Zanesville.
A keeper was moving the leopard between enclosures Sunday morning for routine feeding and cleaning when the animal unexpectedly reversed course as a hydraulic door was being lowered, and it was struck on the neck, the zoo and the Ohio Department of Agriculture said. A zoo veterinarian tried to use chest compressions to restart the unresponsive animal's heart.
The state veterinarian was on-site and decided to euthanize the cat after further examination revealed its spinal cord had been irreversibly damaged and it could not breathe on its own, officials said.
Zoo President Dale Schmidt said the leopard had been safely moved between enclosures many times. He called the situation an "incredible tragedy."
"Our team's heartbroken," Schmidt said. He said the zoo would review its procedures, but no immediate changes were made because of the leopard's injury.
An attorney for the owner's widow, Marian Thompson, said Monday he was withholding comment until they learn more about what happened. Thompson has appealed the quarantine order and requested a hearing on the matter, but no date has been set.
Thompson sought to reclaim the surviving animals in late October, but the Department of Agriculture ordered that they be kept in quarantine. Ohio law allows the agriculture director to quarantine animals while investigating reports of potentially dangerous diseases.
Officials said they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease. The order prevents the zoo from releasing the animals until it's clear they're free of dangerous diseases, and it sets no deadline for medical testing to confirm that.
The state said the leopard that was euthanized had a congenital defect that weakened its spine and might have affected the severity of its injury. Radiographs before and after death showed malformed vertebrae in its neck, and the leopard also had old injuries that didn't properly heal, including broken back and tail bones, officials said.
A necropsy was performed, but the results were expected to take weeks. The Department of Agriculture would dispose of the leopard's remains for biological safety reasons, spokeswoman Erica Pitchford said.
The other five animals appear to be OK, but officials can't confirm their internal health until medical tests are conducted, the zoo president said.