Jaguar escape at Audubon Zoo could lead to changes at other facilities

Jaguar escape at Audubon Zoo could lead to changes at other facilities

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The jaguar escape at the Audubon Zoo could lead to changes at other zoos across the country.

"It's certainly possible. That's one of the great things about this community is that when a tragic incident like this happens we are able to learn from it and everybody improves as a result," said Rob Vernon with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the industry's largest accrediting body.

The Audubon Zoo is now in the process of making improvements to the jaguar exhibit after the zoo says three-year-old Valerio managed to chew through the woven stainless steel cables on the roof of his enclosure and escape through a small hole, estimated to be only 8 by 10 inches wide. Nine animals died after he then went on a killing spree.

"When an incident like this happens, our whole community learns. When we wrote the animal care manual we thought the mesh that was outlined in there was strong enough. Now we know it's not," said Vernon. "We're going to update those manuals and note to everybody in the community that's housing jaguars that this could happen, and so hopefully everyone will take steps to make sure their habitats are sound and we can avoid a situation like this in the future."

We asked if they have any concerns about other large carnivore exhibits at other zoos.

"No. No concerns at this time," Vernon said.

The managing director of the Audubon Zoo, Dr. Kyle Burks, said following Valerio's escape they decided to replace the stainless steel barrier at the jaguar exhibit with stronger material and smaller openings.

"In an abundance of caution, we are going to move to a much stronger material than even outlined by the guidelines of our association. We haven't determined the final material we are going to use yet, but we will continue to work to do so," said Burks.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums says the zoo's accreditation is not in question.

"They handled everything appropriately and we continue to be in very close contact with them as they review the situation," said Vernon.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is asking Audubon for a report on the escape. Their accreditation commission will then review that information and decide if anything else needs to be done.

The USDA confirms it conducted an inspection of the zoo. They haven't released those findings yet.

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