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The Great Escape: Multiple Breaches at the Dallas Zoo Allowed Some Animals to Make a Break For It

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Dallas Zoo was shut down last Friday. What caused the facility to close on January 13 was simple: some animals escaped. It was initially described as a “non-dangerous” animal on the loose. A hole in the enclosure for the zoo’s clouded leopard was large enough for the creature to slip through, setting off an animal hunt. The leopard was eventually recovered, but it’s the subject of an investigation since the breach in their habitat was intentionally made. The zoo has security on site, along with other staffers, and Dallas police say in their preliminary review that the leopards were still accounted for in their enclosure at 1 A.M. Friday. Around 5:15 PM that afternoon, the leopard was located unharmed (via NYT):


The Dallas Zoo said on Friday afternoon that a clouded leopard that had been missing all day had been recovered after officials said they found a “suspicious” tear in the animal’s enclosure. 

Nova, who weighs 25 pounds, was found on the zoo grounds at 4:40 p.m. local time “very near the original habitat, and teams were able to safely secure her just before 5:15 p.m.,” the zoo said on Twitter. She did not appear to be injured, the zoo said. 

The police said they had opened a criminal investigation into Nova’s disappearance. 

Officials said they found a tear in the mesh in the zoo’s two-story clouded leopard enclosure. Investigating further, they found Luna, a 3- or 4-year-old clouded leopard, safely in her habitat. But Nova, her sister, was gone. 

Sgt. Warren Mitchell of the Dallas police said at a news conference on Friday afternoon that crime scene investigators had determined that the tear in the mesh had been made intentionally. 

Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president for animal care and conservation, said that members of the zoo’s staff believed that Nova and Luna were both still in their enclosure at 1 a.m. Friday.

“We do have security staff on grounds overnight and we have some animal care staff on grounds overnight,” he said. “So we know that at 1 a.m., we have staff who believe that both cats were accounted for in the same spot, but the specifics of the timeline are something that we’re still working through right now.”. 

The zoo did not open on Friday morning. Instead, zoo officials issued a “Code Blue,” summoning the police to help address what it described as a “serious situation” after zookeepers discovered that Nova was missing from her enclosure.


Yet, that wasn’t the only zoo exhibit that was vandalized. A similar tear for an enclosure of monkeys was also discovered while zoo officials searched for the leopard. They, too, were all accounted for in the end, as none of them had tried to escape (via CBS News):

The clouded leopard, named Nova, got out of her enclosure Friday morning, forcing the zoo to close and prompting an hours-long search. She was safely secured near her habitat early Friday evening, the zoo said. 

Dallas police told CBS News in a statement Saturday evening that investigators determined a "cutting tool" was used to cut an opening in the fencing of Nova's habitat. Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo's executive vice president for animal care and conservation, told reporters Friday that zoologists found a tear in the mesh of her two-story habitat, according to CBS DFW. 

Zoo personnel later discovered a "similar cut" in the fencing of an enclosure which houses langur monkeys, police said. None of the monkeys got out, however, and all appeared unharmed. 

Investigators are unsure if the two incidents are connected, police disclosed. A criminal investigation is ongoing.


The great escape is over. Now, it’s onto who intentionally cut holes in these animals’ exhibits.

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