Valerio, a 3-year-old jaguar, escaped its cage and killed nine animals in Louisiana’s Audubon Zoo.
The big cat chewed through the stainless-steel netting which formed the roof of its enclosure, squeezed through the small hole, and got free to roam the zoo grounds.
Once free, Valerio followed jaguar instinct, killing as much food as possible while he had the chance.
The big cat’s escape was noticed at 7:20 a.m. on Saturday, when a zoo staff member heard sounds of animals in distress. Valerio was busy in the fox pen at that time, having already attacked an alpaca and an emu.
The staff member radioed for help. Then he and the other staffer on duty sought shelter. The big cat could have easily killed both zookeepers had they tried to rescue the foxes.
Zoo security set up a safety perimeter and zoo veterinary staff tranquilized the animal. After making sure he was unconscious, zoo staff collected the big cat and transported him to his night enclosure, which is not open to the outside.
His regular home, “Jaguar Jungle,” will be reinforced before he is allowed to move back there.
Zoo officials said that the mesh used as a cage roof met the standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“I’m still processing that the animal was able to bite through this woven stainless steel cable,” Kyle Burks, vice president and managing director of Audubon Zoo and Park, told Nola.com.
“I’m really proud of our team’s emergency response to this and our effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Burks said.
There are no surveillance cameras in the jaguar enclosure, so staff have no way to know how long Valerio was loose.
“We know that he was out long enough to do the things that he did,” Burks said. “For us, anytime he was out was too long.”
An expert who heads a group dedicated to protecting and preserving wild cats said that Valerio’s killing spree was, in fact, normal jaguar behavior.
“It was completely natural behavior that is in no way reflective of a bad cat,” Dr. Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst, told Nola.com.
Neils said jaguars will kill as much food is available, because they can safely eat meat as much as a week old, unlike most big cats who can only eat fresh meat.
“When food is plentiful, you kill,” Neils explained.
Burks said that zoo patrons expressed sorrow for the slain animals—erecting impromptu shrines in the parking lot—and were also concerned about Valerio.
“There has been a lot of concern and question about Valerio, will he be euthanized over this event?” Burks said
“We are absolutely not intending to do that. He is also part of our family and he was, unfortunately, doing what jaguars do.”
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