Leopard From Zanesville, Ohio, Reserve Is Euthanized After Accident
A leopard that survived the mass killing of exotic animals at an Ohio reserve last year was euthanized after a zookeeper accidentally struck it with a heavy steel gate while closing its cage at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, officials said Tuesday.
“It was partly that you had an animal that was moving quickly and part human error,” said Patty Peters, the zoo’s spokeswoman. “It was just a freak accident.”
The 2-year-old spotted leopard had been one of only six animals from a total of 56 that had not been hunted down and shot by law enforcement officers in October after the owner of the reserve, Terry Thompson, 62, cut open their cages.
It remains unclear why Mr. Thompson, who fatally shot himself in his driveway, released the animals.
The leopard and the other surviving animals were taken to the Columbus Zoo
and have been held in quarantine there to ensure that they are not carrying contagious diseases.
Ms. Peters said on Tuesday that the accident had occurred Sunday morning after a zookeeper was moving the 84-pound leopard from its cage into an adjoining enclosure to feed it and clean its cage.
As the keeper pulled a lever to lower a stainless steel, pneumatic gate that divided the cages, the animal tried to race back under it, but the 200-pound gate hit it on the neck, stopping its heart, Ms. Peters said.
The zookeeper was able to prevent the gate from closing completely, Ms. Peters said, and yelled for a veterinarian who used chest compressions to revive the leopard.
When Tony Forshey, director of the state’s Agriculture Department who is also the state’s veterinarian, arrived at the zoo he ordered that the leopard be euthanized.
Dr. Forshey said a gross necropsy revealed that the leopard had several pre-existing conditions that exacerbated the injury, including under-nourishment that weakened its bones, a genetic malformation to its cervical vertebrae and broken bones in its back and tail that had not properly healed.
“Unfortunately, the combination of these factors meant that the leopard wasn’t able to survive an injury that would have had little effect on a normal, healthy animal,” Dr. Forshey said in a statement.
Ms. Peters said the zoo’s veterinarians and a neurologist had determined that the wounded leopard would not have been able to move or to breathe on its own.
Many of the animals on the reserve were abused and neglected, according to the authorities, including a bear and two lion cubs that in 2008 were found living inside a cage meant for a parrot.
The leopard and the other survivors from the Zanesville reserve — a brown bear, two Celebes macaques, and two other leopards, one black, the other spotted — had not been examined by the zoo due to a dispute over whether Marian Thompson, Mr. Thompson’s widow, who had helped care for the animals, should retain ownership.
In the meantime, the state has directed that the animals be quarantined until it is clear they are not carrying serious communicable diseases, including the herpes B virus. But an examination would require that they be sedated, which can be fatal to unhealthy animals. The medical histories of the animals are unknown because the Thompsons did not provide records, the state said.
“They’ve been receiving cleaning and feeding and pretty much nothing else,” said Ms. Peters. “They don’t belong to us. We’re not going to take the chance of sedation.”
Ms. Thompson, who could not be reached through her lawyer on Tuesday, has sought to have the animals returned.