NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Audubon Zoo officials said Tuesday that the jaguar exhibit will be outfitted with stronger material after one of its jaguars escaped.
Zoo officials believe the jaguar, named Valerio, got out after chewing through the roof of his enclosure. He then managed to slip through a small hole estimated to be only 8 by 10 inches wide.
"I'm still processing that the animal was able to bite through this woven stainless steel cable but after he did that our best determination is he then pushed his way through the hole in the roof walked across the roof and then jumped to the ground," said Audubon Zoo Managing Director Dr. Kyle Burks.
Zoo officials don't know how long the jaguar was out. But, at 7:20 Saturday morning, a worker heard animals in distress and then spotted the 3-year-old male in the fox exhibit.
"If the zoo had been open, the added protocol would have been for all other staff to help guests get safely inside buildings and secured there, and we use locations and drills throughout the year to prepare for that," said Burks.
The USDA has inspected the zoo since that escape and zoo officials are also continuing their investigation. Audubon says it's possible the jaguar could have gotten past the outside secondary containment barrier of the zoo, but they did everything they could to keep that from happening.
"Is it conceivable? Yes. Did we do everything to prevent that? Yes. We're we successful? Yes," said Burks.
We're told The jaguar is now being kept at the carnivore section of the zoo's animal hospital. A zoo official says he was just doing what jaguars do and he will not be euthanized.
The zoo says their animal exhibits are routinely inspected but staff had not spotted any problems with the jaguar enclosure prior to the escape.
As zoo officials gain more information about how that jaguar got loose, they also have suffered more loss.
Rusty the fox died Monday, bringing the death toll to nine animals.
Five alpacas, one emu and two other foxes have also died. Six animals died the day of the incident, and three more died in the days after.
Zoo officials said the roof of Valerio's habitat was compromised, but their initial findings are that zoo-keeper error was not a factor.
The zoo was closed Saturday after the jaguar escaped, but re-opened Sunday. Grief counselors have been brought in to help workers cope.
Valerio is being kept in his night space for the time being.
Many zoo visitors say they aren't concerned that another escape would happen.
"I'm disappointed that he's not out here right now but I understand they have to make the space safer, so it's all good," said Gloria O'Connor, a visitor to the zoo. "We weren't afraid to come here today."
Officials don't have a timeline yet for when the jaguar exhibit will re-open.