Dallas Zoo clouded leopard Nova was missing in zoo for hours

The clouded leopard, an average-sized adult named Nova, seemingly broke out of her habitat's mesh enclosure through an existing tear.

 The clouded leopard (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
The clouded leopard
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)

Dallas Zoo fans can rejoice after a clouded leopard that had escaped from its habitat on Friday was found hours later and recovered on zoo property, the zoo announced over social media.

The clouded leopard, an average-sized adult named Nova, seemingly broke out of her habitat's mesh enclosure through an existing tear.

The Dallas Zoo closed its doors for the day and called for a Code Blue as it attempted to track down the missing animal.

It should be noted though, that while Nova is a leopard, she was hardly dangerous.

Clouded leopards are pretty small, being bigger than a house cat but still smaller than most bobcats. The average adult weighs just around 11.3 kilograms (or 25 pounds). They get their name from their cloud-like fur patterns.

 Sign at the Dallas Zoo (credit: REUTERS) Sign at the Dallas Zoo (credit: REUTERS)

In other words, at her size, she didn't pose any danger to any humans, and most pets wouldn't be in any more danger from her than they would from any of the other native wildlife in the area.

But either way, the zoo operated under the assumption that she hadn't left the grounds and was just hiding. 

"More likely than not when she's scared she's going to climb a tree, stay out of our way, hunt some squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed."

Harrison Edell

"More likely than not when she's scared she's going to climb a tree, stay out of our way, hunt some squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed," zoo vice president for animal care and conservation Harrison Edell told reporters on Friday.

What happened to Nova the clouded leopard?

Ultimately, zoo staff managed to locate Nova Friday afternoon after getting a "tip" from an overly vocal nearby squirrel. 

It turns out, the zoo was right in assuming she hadn't left the grounds. In fact, she was only around 91 meters (100 yards) from her habitat

It didn't take too long for zoo staff to safely return her to her habitat. 

A veterinary team later confirmed that Nova was in perfect health with no signs of injury. She spent all of Saturday back in her habitat alongside her sister, Luna, and a crowd of worried zoo-goers came by to wish this formerly lost leopard well.

But a question still remains: How did the clouded leopard escape in the first place?

This is still unclear, but the Dallas Zoo suspects foul play.

On one of their Facebook posts, the zoo noted that there seems to have been a cut in the wire mesh in the habitat – a cut they have determined to have been intentionally made by somebody.

In response, the Dallas Police Department announced they are launching a criminal investigation.