Nova, a clouded leopard found on the grounds of the Dallas Zoo after many hours of searching that led to a criminal investigation, was reunited with his sister on Saturday.
A 4-year-old cat reportedly went missing on Friday morning from an enclosure that authorities believe was deliberately opened. The zoo announced that it closed at 10:20 a.m. following a “code blue” or warning issued when non-dangerous animals went missing, but police reports show officers were sent to the zoo around 7:20 a.m.
With the help of unmanned equipment from the Dallas and Irving Police Departments, Nova was located near the habitat she shares with her sister Luna at 4:40 p.m. and safely defused about 35 minutes later.
“As we predicted, she found a good hiding place, settled in and, as we approached dusk, went out to explore,” Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president of animal care and conservation, said Saturday.
Clouded leopards, named for the large, cloud-like spots that cover their bodies, are only a few feet long, weigh 20 to 25 pounds, and pose no danger to humans. However, Edell said that Nova was “quite nervous” when she was found, so the zoo’s veterinary staff had to sedate her.
“Then we had the opportunity to give her a physical examination, which is always a great idea when the animal has been to a new place,” he said. “Physically, she looks great.”
The sedatives wore off around 8 p.m. Friday, and Nova was taken back to the refurbished enclosure on Saturday morning.
“She’s dozing,” Edell said. “She had a long day. It’s a real adventure.”
Sergeant Warren Mitchell, a spokesman for the Dallas Police, confirmed Friday afternoon that police have opened a criminal investigation into the leopard’s disappearance and said the department believes the gap found in the mesh was “a deliberate act.”
Police did not provide any updates on their investigation Saturday afternoon.
When asked if officials believe the cut was made by an employee or a guest, Edell said it was “very difficult to tell at this point,” adding that the zoo is leaving the investigation to the Dallas police, who “will continue to support as much as we can.”
The zoo has already made short-term changes to night safety schedules, Edell said, but said he knows “we have some homework to figure out what long-term plans look like.”
“We will try to learn what we can from this case, adapt what we are doing and try to make sure that we have the most reliable protocols in the future,” Edell said.
Staff photographer Shafkat Anovar contributed to this report.