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After Bobcat Escape, Searchers Scour Area Near DC Zoo

Missing cat leads local schools to cancel outdoor activities; college students warned

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Ollie the bobcat has not returned to her enclosure at the National Zoo in Northwest Washington. Keepers first noticed she was gone on Monday morning. As News4's Meagan Fitzgerald reports, Ollie's disappearance is affecting area schools. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017)

    A bobcat remains missing from the Smithsonian's National Zoo, and tipsters told zoo officials Tuesday they spotted her in surrounding neighborhoods.

    As a result, more than a dozen schools moved activities indoors Tuesday, a D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman said. American University had also warned students Monday.

    Neighbors said they weren't worried, exactly, just ... remaining observant.

    "I wish that it was in its cage, rather than roaming the streets of D.C.," said Drew Montmarquet, who was visiting the zoo Tuesday.

    Joey Jimenez, who lives near the zoo and in the area where Ollie has been cited, said he's been looking out while taking his small dog out on walks. "I was kind of alarmed, because I have to walk her out at night time," Jimenez said.

    The zoo received several calls from the public over Monday night with "consistent information" that the bobcat, a female named Ollie, was in Woodley Park and Cleveland Park, zoo officials said Tuesday morning in a statement.

    A team of zookeepers, zoo police and members of the Humane Rescue Alliance are searching those areas, the zoo said.

    Ollie, who weighs 25 pounds, was last seen with two male bobcats at 7:30 a.m. Monday during a routine count. When a zookeeper went to feed the bobcats at 10:40 a.m., Ollie was gone.

    Zoo officials said there is no imminent danger to the general public or zoo guests, but no one should approach her if they see her. Instead, the public is asked to note the time and exact location of the bobcat and call 202-633-7362.

    Bobcats are not known to be aggressive to humans, the zoo said.

     

    Dr. Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences for the zoo, said Monday that it looked like one of the ropes that holds the bobcats' mesh enclosure had broken. Smith said it didn't look like a deliberate act, but the break left a gap through which they believe Ollie was able to escape. 

    Craig Saffoe, a curator for great cats at the zoo, said on Monday that Ollie is a capable hunter and would be able to care for herself while on the loose.

    "Cats are... they're survivors. This is not like she's out in an area, in an environment that she can't survive," Saffoe said, noting that bobcats are indigenous to the D.C. area, although rare. "This a very survivable habitat; it's one of the things that will make it very difficult for us to ensure that we can find her."

    Saffoe said Ollie is equipped to survive and that bobcats sometimes catch birds that land in their enclosure.

    He was not completely confident they will be able to find her.

    "We are doing everything we can to ensure that we can get her back. The likelihood that we get her back? I mean, I'd be lying to you if I said that we're definitely going to get her back," Saffoe said. "We're setting everything up to get the best chances of success here."

    He said it's more likely Ollie will return to her enclosure on her own.

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    Smith said zookeepers train for "events like this," so they immediately began a search after discovering Ollie was missing. However, they quickly changed tactics out of fear that they could end up scaring her away.

    "We actually created a bigger perimeter search so that any looking would drive her toward her exhibit," Smith said.

    Ollie has a chip for identification purposes but not a tracker. She was born in the wild and is close to 7 years old. Zoo officials believe she may return to her enclosure for food and shelter on her own.

    "There's food, there's shelter, there's warmth at her exhibit," Smith said.

    Bobcats can run up to 30 mph and are excellent climbers, according to the zoo's webpage on the animal. At the zoo, they eat prepared meat, mice, rats and chicks. In the wild, they eat rabbits, hares, squirrels and mice. 

    "She is a carnivore, so for small birds, small animals in the area, which could even include small cats and dogs, she could be a threat," Smith said Monday. "I would treat her the same way that I would treat a stray dog. You wouldn't approach a stray dog. And she's the same thing. She's not a threat unless you become a threat to her."

    The most recent animal to escape the zoo was an agouti, which is a small mammal, in July 2015, a zoo spokeswoman said. The agouti escaped from an exterior habitat but was found on the walkway and was easily recaptured, she said.

    In 2013, a red panda named Rusty famously escaped from the National Zoo. He was recaptured in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood the following afternoon. Ashley Foughty spotted Rusty and tweeted pictures that helped keepers find him in a tree. 

    Zoo officials said Rusty likely escaped the zoo by "climbing across a 'bridge' created by rain-laden trees and bamboo" -- and he probably did it for a snack of some nearby bamboo, they said. 

    Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.