A zoo in China waited nearly three weeks to alert the public that it had accidentally released three leopard cubs into the local environment for fear of losing tourist revenue during a recent public holiday, Singapore’s Mothership news site reported on Tuesday.
Staff at Hangzhou Safari Park in China’s Zhejiang province allowed three young leopards to escape into Hangzhou city on April 19 after failing to follow proper safety protocol while cleaning the cats’ cages.
“The company then held an internal meeting, believing that reporting the incident would affect the park’s visitor count and revenue during the May Day [May 1] holidays, so it decided to search for the leopards on its own, and strictly forbade any employees from making the issue public,” the deputy mayor of Hangzhou, Wang Hong, revealed at a press conference on May 10.
The zoo finally admitted that its staff had accidentally released the leopards into Hangzhou city on May 8 after local police received reports from residents saying they had seen the animals wandering around the metropolis, home to nearly eight million people.
“The escaped leopards had been spotted by nearby villagers as early as May 1, and they were reported to local police on Friday [May 7], but the Hangzhou Safari Park had neither reported the situation nor alerted the public until Saturday [May 8],” China’s state-run Global Times reported. “When asked by the media about the escaped leopards earlier on Saturday [May 8], the Park even denied any connection to the incident.”
“We are deeply sorry for delaying the announcement. We thought juvenile leopards are weak and will not pose a great danger, so we decided not to announce their escape to avoid causing public panic,” the zoo wrote in a statement issued May 8.
Hangzhou Safari Park staff captured one of the leopards on April 21, while city authorities captured a second leopard on May 8. The third escaped leopard remains at large; city officials have reportedly released about 100 chickens throughout Hangzhou as bait in an attempt to find the cat.
The recovery of the two leopards has also sparked public criticism. A video appearing to show one of the leopards being attacked by a pack of pit bulls used to capture the cat has circulated online. The footage shows both the dogs and the leopard sustained wounds during the incident. The leopard will reportedly undergo foot surgery to repair an injury suffered during its capture.
Hangzhou government authorities have ordered Hangzhou Safari Park to suspend its operations for deliberately concealing the leopard escape.
“The government has sent a working group to the park to supervise the rectification, and the park will be closed indefinitely until the rectification is completed,” Hangzhou city officials said at the news conference on May 10.
“The local police have also opened an investigation. A total of five people, including the company’s legal person, have been seized in accordance with the law,” the officials said.