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The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans closed on Saturday after a jaguar escaped and killed six animals before it was sedated.
The incident occurred at 7:20 a.m. local time when Valerio, a 3-year-old jaguar, slipped out of its habitat. There were no human injuries and the staff was able to get the feline back into its night house over the course of the next hour, officials said at a press conference Saturday.
“In over a 100-year period, we’ve never had any incident like this,” said Ron Forman, the president and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute at press conference on Saturday. “This is by far the biggest tragedy we’ve had.”
The zoo also stated that they have practices in place that are meant to prevent these incidents.
“We receive inspections a few times a year from Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1981,” Forman said.
Three other animals were injured and are currently in immediate care, according to the zoo’s doctor, Frank Burks. All of their alpaca population were hurt or killed in this incident.
Burks said in a video posted on the zoo’s Twitter page Saturday afternoon that the jaguar was darted and within a few minutes began to go to sleep. The animal was then taken to his night holding area and “by about 8:20 this morning he was safely inside the building.”
The jaguar will not be euthanized, Joel Hamilton, vice president and general curator at the zoo, said.
“Nothing’s going to happen to the jaguar itself,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was doing what jaguars do.”
“We are looking to investigate everything that happened and to prevent anything like this from ever happening again,” said Forman.
The 58-acre zoo is 100 years old and houses 2,000 animals. Forman also said that the staff would be provided with appropriate grief counseling in the coming days.
“These animals are their family, these people care for them 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” Forman said.
When a reporter asked if this is normal for the jaguar, Burks responded, “This behavior isn’t out of the ordinary for this kind of animal. It was most likely a territorial situation.”
Forman ended the press conference assuring future zoo goers about the safety conditions of their park, saying, “Statistically there is nothing to worry about.”
An internal investigation is examining how the animal escaped out of his quarters and the Audubon Zoo is set to reopen Sunday, July 15, at 10 a.m.