Toll from jaguar's killing spree at New Orleans zoo rises to 9

Audubon Zoo veterinarian Frank Burks told reporters Valerio, the jaguar, would not be euthanized despite the havoc it caused.

                            Toll from jaguar's killing spree at New Orleans zoo rises to 9
(Source:Getty Images)

A fox which was attacked by a jaguar that escaped its enclosure in a New Orleans zoo on Saturday succumbed to its injuries on Monday. With the death, Rusty became the ninth victim of the jaguar, who mauled a number of animals to death after escaping its enclosure at the Audubon Zoo before being sedated. 

According to reports, Valerio, the jaguar, also fatally mauled five alpacas -- Noel, Micia, Alexandria, Lil Melody and Daisy -- two other foxes named Maggie Mae and Copper and an emu called Elmo. 

Officials informed in a press release that the mammal was first reported missing at 7:20 am, before the zoo opened. They said that within an hour it was spotted, immobilized with a tranquilizer, and returned safely to its enclosure.

While the circumstances of the incident have sparked concerns due to the "Jaguar Jungle's" close proximity to the children's playground, there were no reported human injuries during its escape.

Other than Jaguars, the "Jaguar Jungle" also houses alpacas, giant anteaters, spider monkeys, bats, tropical frogs, monkeys, and tarantulas.

Zoo officials did not reveal how the fierce predator managed to escape the facility. However, they insisted that the enclosure was safe for the general public, according to a news conference on Saturday.

According to Kyle Burks, the zoo's vice president and managing director, the three-year-old Jaguar, named Valerio, was only engaging in "territorial display" as it did not eat the animals it attacked.

On Saturday, zoo officials brought in grief counselors for traumatized staff and closed the facility to the public in order to determine how the big cat escaped.

That said, the incident raised legitimate concerns about the caging of apex predators that have matured enough to hunt and kill. If safeguards break down, the natural predators will immediately pounce on their prey either to satisfy hunger or to simply display their territorial instincts as Valerio did.

According to experts who spoke to The Washington Post, such breaches aren't only restricted to defectively maintained shelters.

“These accidents happen, you know, on some kind of a recurring basis around the world,” said Doug Cress, chief executive of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “And it’s because you’re dealing with animals that, at their genetic core, are built differently than we might like them to be. They are designed to be wild animals.”

The sentiment was echoed by the Audubon Zoo's vice president, Joel Hamilton, when he was asked if there was anything singularly aggressive about the three-year-old Jaguar.

“He’s a young male jaguar,” Hamilton said. “He was doing what jaguars do. Certainly, his behavior wasn’t out of the ordinary for that kind of an animal.”

Fortunately, zoo veterinarian Frank Burks told reporters Valerio would not be euthanized despite the havoc it caused.

“Nothing’s going to happen to the jaguar itself. Unfortunately, it was doing what jaguars do,” Burks said.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, jaguars are known to prey on over 85 species, making them one of the apex predators in the food chain. The IUCN lists them as "near threatened" in the jungles of Central and South America, while the US Fish and Wildlife Service lists them as endangered in the southern regions of Arizona and New Mexico. Having said that, the only big cats larger than jaguars are lions and tigers, thus making them the biggest in the Americas.

Saturday's attack was reportedly the worst in the zoo's history. However, Ron Forman, the president and chief executive of Audubon Zoo told the public it was safe to visit the enclosure.

“The zoo, it’s been here for 100 years,” Forman said. “In that time period, we’ve had over 100 million visitors to the zoo. We’ve never had an incident like that before. So I think statistically there’s nothing to worry about the safety of coming to the zoo.”

A zoo statement read: “Our staff continues to mourn the loss of our animals. An investigation is underway and we will release information when available. Initial findings concluded keeper error was not a factor in this incident.

“We are mourning the loss of six animals that did not survive and three animals injured (one alpaca named Daisy and two foxes called Copper and Rusty) that are under professional animal care.

“The names of the alpaca that did not survive were Noel, Micia, Alexandria, and Lil Melody.

“The fox was named Maggie Mae and the emu was called Elmo.

“The team responded immediately to the incident. Veterinarians had to prepare tranquilizers and position themselves to get a good line of sight. Once darted, the jaguar was sedated within minutes.

“We are still investigating how this happened. From our initial inspection, it appears the roof of the habitat was compromised.

“We are still investigating, and no animals will be housed in this enclosure until the investigation and repairs are completed.”

While no human casualty was reported in New Orleans, there have been several incidents where people have lost their lives in their encounters with zoo animals.

According to reports, a tiger at Hamerton Park Zoo mauled a British zookeeper to death in the spring of 2017.

Another attack took place back in 2016, when Stacey Konwiser, 38, lost her life to a tiger whilst preparing the "night house" at the Palm Beach Zoo. A "night house" is designed to facilitate the cleaning and feeding of animals before they are housed for the night.

The same year saw a woman injured and her mother killed after they got out of their car at the Beijing Safari World.