Visitors flock to Audubon Zoo following jaguar escape

Visitors flock to Audubon Zoo following jaguar escape
Updated: Jul. 15, 2018 at 11:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Officials say a fox and an alpaca died of their injuries, Sunday, after a Saturday attack by a jaguar that escaped from his enclosure at the Audubon Zoo. That brings the total to eight animals Valerio killed while on the loose. Yet, visitors weren't deterred. In fact, some say the attack was their motivation.

"That's the whole reason why I'm here," said zoo visitor Chris Gill. "I wanted to see the iconic Jaguar."

Three-year-old Valerio the male jaguar became a feline celebrity overnight, making headlines across the country for his escape and subsequent slaughter.

"I wanted to see evidence of the Jaguar attack, haven't found any yet. They did a good job of cleaning it up," said visitor Mark Francoeur.

Audubon Zoo officials say the roof of his enclosure was compromised and Valerio found a way out just before 7:30 a.m., Saturday morning. He got into the alpaca exhibit several hundred feet away and killed four of them and fatally injuring a fifth. The zoo's last alpaca died Sunday from its injuries. The adult jaguar also killed an emu, two foxes and injured a third fox. In all, the animal was on the lam for less than an hour.

"I'm glad nobody got hurt. Just the animals, unfortunately," Francoeur said.

Yet, those hoping to catch a glimpse this natural born killer left disappointed.

"We were looking forward to the Jaguar but we still made the best of the day," said visitor Marshall Porter.

"Sadly, the Jaguar's in time out," said Gill.

"Now, he's in prison," echoed 7-year-old visitor Damien Fontenot. "He ate six animals yesterday!"

Zoo officials say Valerio is in his nighttime habitat. They're still investigating his escape and aren't sure where he slipped out.

Meanwhile, zoo leaders and keepers mourn the death of eight of their animals.

"This is a devastating loss for our team. We care for these animals every day," said Audubon Zoo Vice President and Managing Director Kyle Burks.

Some have their own theories about why Valerio killed.

"They didn't feed him enough. Maybe that's why he broke out," guessed Fontenot.

But the explanation is far more instinctual.

"He's a young male jaguar. He was doing what Jaguars do. Certainly his behavior wasn't out of the ordinary for that kind of animal. And, he's just a normal jaguar as far as we're concerned," explained Audubon Zoo General Curator Joel Hamilton.

"It's not surprising. To me, it's just natural," Gill said.

Visitors made a makeshift memorial outside the zoo's gift shop for the five alpaca killed. It includes a stuffed animal and messages from supporters.

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