Missing clouded leopard found safe at Dallas Zoo; criminal investigation ongoing

A clouded leopard that went missing from its Dallas Zoo exhibit has been found safe after police say someone intentionally created a tear in its enclosure.

The zoo says the animal named Nova was found around 4:40 p.m. Friday on zoo grounds in a tree near her original habitat. Officials say she was safely secured and did not seem to be hurt, but she will be evaluated by a vet.

Meanwhile, police say they are launching a criminal investigation surrounding the cat's escape.

The zoo on Friday found a tear in the outer mesh that surrounds the habitat. They say the tear is suspicious.

Officials say it was difficult finding her because clouded leopards like to be up in trees.

The Dallas Zoo is closed Friday because of Nova's escape. She is one of the zoo’s two 4-year-old clouded leopard sisters.

Harrison Edell, the zoo’s vice president of animal care and conservation, said Nova was not in her habitat when the team checked on her in the morning. Caretakers discovered a tear in the mesh of the enclosure and worked under the assumption the animal escaped.

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Police say the breach appears to be intentional and have launched a criminal investigation.

"We do know the fence that it escaped from was intentionally cut," said Dallas Police Sgt. Warren Mitchell.

It was clear this habitat failure, it wasn’t an exhibit failure, and it wasn't keeper error," said Dallas Zoo CEO Greg Hudson. "We are fully cooperating with DPD and their active investigation of this."

Police didn’t say much about why they believe the damage to Nova’s enclosure was intentional. At this time, there’s no suspect description. Zoo officials say they have turned over camera footage to search.

And while it’s not clear whether anyone intended to take Nova, zoo officials were clear that no one should try to raise these animals as pets.

"We spend a lot of time interacting with our guests and trying to explain why wild animals are not pets," Edell said. "This is not a pet. But there are always going to be folks who are convinced they want to give it a try."

Edell said clouded leopards are not like other leopards, and Nova was not a threat to humans. 

Edell said Nova is very attached to her sister and her territory, so that's why she didn't go too far.

The Irving Police Department assisted in the search with an infrared drone.

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Dallas Zoo | Courtesy: Kendall Jarman

FOX 4 viewer Kendall Jarman shared pictures of some officers in tactical gear at the zoo’s entrance. She tried to visit the zoo Friday morning and was turned away before it opened. 

The Dallas Zoo said it will provide another update on the animal's condition on Saturday.