Police Investigate "Disturbing" Vulture Death and Leopard Escape at Dallas Zoo

The zoo's president and CEO called the incidents "totally unprecedented."

Providing a home for over 2,000 animals, the Dallas Zoo is the largest in Texas, as well as the oldest—it was founded in 1888 with just two deer and two mountain lions. The zoo is also one of the main tourist attractions in the city, conveniently located just three miles south of downtown Dallas. But the popular destination is now dealing with a string of disconcerting incidents, including the escape of a clouded leopard and the suspicious death of an endangered vulture. In light of this, the zoo has been forced to up its security protocol while police investigate the eerie events. Read on to find out what we know, and why officials are calling the circumstances "unusual."

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Nova the clouded leopard got out of her habitat earlier this month.

clouded leopard in tree
jdross75 / Shutterstock

Strange occurrences began at the Dallas Zoo on Jan. 13, when the zoo announced on Twitter that it was closed for the day "due to a serious situation."

In a series of tweets, the zoo confirmed that Nova, an adult clouded leopard, escaped from her enclosure, prompting a "code blue," which is used when a non-dangerous animal is out of its habitat. The Dallas Police Department (DPD) was on the scene to help locate the 25-pound animal, and the public was warned not to engage with Nova if she made her way off-site. Thankfully, she was located, uninjured, near her original habitat that same afternoon.

While it initially seemed like a happy ending, a criminal investigation revealed that the fence in Nova's enclosure, which she shares with her sibling, Luna, was tampered with. "Further investigation determined a cutting tool was intentionally used to cut an opening in the fencing of the Clouded Leopard's habitat," the DPD said in a Jan. 13 press release.

Things got more complicated the next day, as zoo staff pointed Dallas police to the langur monkey exhibit, where they noticed "a similar cut." All of the langurs were still in the habitat and unharmed, and police stated that it was "unknown if the two incidents are related."

This past weekend, however, the situation became even more sinister.

An endangered vulture was found dead in its habitat.

lappet-faced-vulture
EcoPrint / Shutterstock

Over the weekend, the Dallas Zoo announced tragic news—an endangered lappet-faced vulture was found dead in its "Wilds of Africa" habitat. The vulture, named Pin, was 35 years old, NBC News reported.

"The animal care team is heartbroken over this tremendous loss," the zoo tweeted on Jan. 22, less than 10 days after the previous incidents. "Please keep them in your thoughts as they process what has happened."

The thread continued, with officials writing that Pin's death was "unusual" and didn't appear to be related to "natural causes." The zoo confirmed that the DPD was alerted and noted that security measures were increased following the suspicious death.

"In the past week, we have added additional cameras throughout the Zoo and increased onsite security patrols during the overnight hours," a subsequent tweet reads. "We will continue to implement and expand our safety and security measures to whatever level necessary to keep our animals and staff safe."

Today, the situation took yet another turn, as the zoo confirmed that the vulture's death was the result of foul play.

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Federal investigators are involved.

u.s. fish and wildlife logo
Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock

Zoo officials confirmed that the vulture did have a fatal wound, CBS DFW reported, and police are now searching for a suspect who "intentionally killed" the animal.

"I've been in the zoo profession over 30-plus years, [and I've] never had a situation like what happened on Saturday, and frankly, the Friday before last," Gregg Hudson, CEO and president of Dallas Zoo, said, per NBC DFW. "It's totally unprecedented and very, very disturbing."

Officials are looking into current and previous employees, NBC DFW reported, and two separate DPD teams are investigating the vulture death and fence tampering. "They have been conducting interviews, not only with zoo staff, but also going over and gathering any sort of video surveillance that they may have here at the zoo," Kristin Lowman, of the DPD, said during a press conference. "In addition, we contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife [Service], they are now assisting us in this investigation."

Officials are offering a reward for information.

gavel and handcuffs
9dream studio / Shutterstock

According to CBS DFW, the Dallas Zoo is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.

"We're extremely concerned about it, that's why we've called in all the resources that we can," Hudson said. "We're going to pull out anything we can do to be able to solve this and to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible."

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