They say a leopard can’t change its spots. Unfortunately for a safari park in eastern China, it can, however, escape.
Residents demanded answers Monday after a safari park in eastern China failed to inform authorities and residents for weeks that three of its leopards had gotten out of their enclosure.
One of the leopards was still on the loose, said Hangzhou Safari Park in the city of Fuyang. Local media reported that a search team is on its trail after paw prints believed to have been left by the leopard were found Sunday.
The vice mayor of Hangzhou City said police found that the leopards escaped on April 19, several weeks before the first reported sighting. The park also admitted to police that it did not report the incident over worries that it would affect the flow of tourists into the zoo during China’s May Day public holidays in the first week of May.
Police said that five people in charge of the park, including its general manager, had been detained and that they had launched an investigation.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods said they had spotted the leopards in different locations as early as May 2, according to the Chinese state-backed newspaper Global Times, causing fear and confusion.
Residents contacted authorities after the leopards were spotted roaming residential areas and tea plantations near the park Saturday, the Fuyang District government said in a statement.
Search teams, using drones and hunting dogs, were dispatched to look for the animals. Two of them have been found and captured; park officials said they are in good health.
On Saturday morning, the safari park merely announced that it would be suspending operations, citing safety issues, in a now-deleted post on its official WeChat platform. It made no mention of the escaped leopards.
However, after a surveillance video showing a leopard in the high-end Jinyuan Villa residential area went viral online Friday, the park was forced to finally inform the public about the escaped leopards.
A Chinese zoo kept quiet for days after 3 leopards escaped. One big cat is still on the loose https://t.co/mMJPDJLgVa— Insider Life (@InsiderLife) May 10, 2021
It released an apology Saturday evening, saying it was “sincerely sorry” for not having alerted the public sooner, insisting that the leopards were only juveniles and saying it was worried that the announcement would cause panic.