Dallas Zoo

Clouded Leopard Found Unharmed, Returned to Enclosure; Habitat Was Intentionally Cut

Dallas Police investigators have opened a criminal investigation after determining the cat's mesh habitat was apparently intentionally cut, not torn

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What to Know

  • The Dallas Zoo discovered Nova, a clouded leopard, was not in her habitat Friday morning and issued a Code Blue -- an alert indicating a non-dangerous animal was not in its home. The animal was found at about 4:40 p.m. unharmed.
  • Dallas Police say they're investigating after determining the cat's habitat appears to have been intentionally cut and not torn open by the animal.
  • Clouded leopards are small cats, about the size of a medium-sized dog and weighing about 30 pounds. They do not pose a serious threat to people and hunt small animals, like birds or squirrels.

The Dallas Zoo says a clouded leopard reported missing from her habitat Friday morning was found uninjured on zoo property hours later amid an ongoing investigation by Dallas Police into whether the animal's habitat was intentionally damaged.

"We are thrilled to report we located clouded leopard Nova on-grounds at the Zoo this afternoon at approximated 4:40 p.m. She was first seen very near the original habitat, and teams were able to safely secure her just before 5:15 p.m.," the zoo said. "Initial indications are she is not injured. She is being evaluated by our veterinary staff right now. We’ll provide further updates on her status tomorrow."

Texas Sky Ranger was over the zoo as employees were seen lifting a heavy object in a white bag at about 5:12 p.m., presumed to be the clouded leopard, from a heavily treed part of the zoo.

The zoo reported Nova missing Friday morning after a staffer reported she wasn't in her enclosure. Zoo officials later learned that Nova apparently escaped her mesh enclosure through a tear. During a news conference Friday afternoon Dallas Police said that had opened a criminal investigation into the cat's disappearance after saying her enclosure appeared to have been cut rather than being torn open by the animal.

Police did not speculate further on who would have cut the habitat or why, but they've opened a second investigation of criminal mischief after a habitat that houses the langurs, a breed of monkey, was also found over the weekend to have been tampered with. None of the langurs left their enclosure or were injured, the zoo said.

The Dallas Zoo was closed Friday while the search for the clouded leopard was underway but reopened on Saturday with Nova back in her enclosure.

NBC 5 News
Workers at the Dallas Zoo move something in a white bag amid a search for a missing clouded leopard, a small cat that escaped from her enclosure on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.


The Dallas Zoo posted on social media Friday morning that the zoo was going to be closed due to a serious situation -- a Code Blue, which indicated a non-dangerous animal was out of its habitat.

"One of our clouded leopards was not in its habitat when the team arrived this morning and is unaccounted for at this time," the zoo said in a statement posted online at about 10:20 a.m. "The Zoo is closed today as our teams work to find and recover the animal."

The zoo identified the missing clouded leopard as Nova and said she escaped her habitat through a tear found in the mesh enclosure she shares with her sister Luna. Both Nova and Luna, who are about 4 years old, were brought to the Dallas Zoo in 2021 after being raised at the Houston Zoo, according to our partners at The Dallas Morning News.

Getty Images
Clouded leopard, stock photo.

Harrison Edell, vice president for animal care at the Dallas Zoo, said Friday morning that clouded leopards are dramatically different animals from other leopards. They are much smaller, weigh about 30 pounds and pose no serious danger to people.

Edell said while Nova could be scared, if she's loose it's most likely that she climbed a tree to stay out of the way, hunt squirrels and birds and hope to not be noticed.

Because it is winter and there are far fewer leaves on the trees, Edell said it should make finding Nova easier. While staffers were looking into trees from the ground, using binoculars, clouded leopards are very good at staying hidden and would be tough to spot. He added that the Dallas Police were assisting in the search, looking at treetops with drones equipped with infrared technology.

Should the cat have moved beyond the zoo's grounds, Edell cautioned that even though it's not dangerous to people it's still a wild animal and people should not attempt to catch it on their own.

"If you happen to see a cat that is bigger than a house cat, smaller than a bobcat, we'd love a heads up. And photos are always helpful too to make sure that we know what we're looking at. So if people have the opportunity to snap a photo of a cat that looks bigger than usual we'll take any tip we can get," Edell said.


According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, clouded leopards are native to Southeast Asia and are a vulnerable species. Male cats weigh up to 50 pounds while the females are smaller and weigh 25-35 pounds.

The cats have large paws and are very adept at climbing and are one of the few animals that can climb down trees headfirst.

"Clouded leopards are not a 'type' of leopard as their name implies. They are a separate species of wild cat, as are snow leopards and leopards," the Smithsonian reports.

clouded leopard
Dallas Zoo
A clouded leopard at the Dallas Zoo.

The cats are carnivores that stalk their prey from the trees and attack from above. The Smithsonian said that in the wild a clouded leopard will eat gibbons, macaques, slow loris, small deer and wild boars.

According to a map of the Dallas Zoo, the gibbon habitat is adjacent to the clouded leopard habitat.

They are primarily nocturnal and with an average life span of 12-15 years. With human care, the cats can live 17 years, the Smithsonian said.


In 2004, a 13-year-old gorilla named Jabari cleared a 14-foot wall and injured four people before being shot by Dallas Police. After that incident, the zoo beefed up security measures at the exhibit.

In 2010, Tufani the gorilla escaped her locked living quarters and was spotted by a zoo employee preparing food behind a closed door. The zoo tranquilized Tufani and returned her to her living area within an hour. No injuries were reported.

In 2011, Koko, a chimpanzee at the Dallas Zoo, was sedated after briefly escaping from her enclosure. The animal stayed in an area not open to the public. No injuries were reported.

Two weeks after Koko's escape, also in 2011, a spider monkey briefly escaped from its enclosure and was on top of it's habitat for about a half hour. Zoo officials said at the time that the animal basically "got out of his bedroom, but was still in the house." The spider monkey's escape was attributed to human error. No injuries were reported.

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