Escaped Jaguar Kills 9 Animals at New Orleans Zoo

Just a few hours before the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana, opened its doors to the public on July 14, a three-year-old jaguar named Valerio — who had been described by the staff as a “big, lovable goofball” — managed to bite through the steel cables on the roof of the “Jaguar Jungle” exhibit. He then slipped out through a narrow hole.

The jaguar proceeded to go on a killing spree. Terrified alpacas, emus and foxes with no means of escape were attacked in their enclosures. Six of these animals died instantly, while three others died later from their injuries.

At about 8:15 a.m. — nearly an hour after an employee heard the sound of animals in distress and found Valerio in the fox exhibit — a veterinary team was able to sedate the jaguar with a tranquilizer dart and examine him for any injuries. The good news from this terrible incident is that Valerio will not be euthanized for doing what he’d do naturally in the wild.

Valerio is being kept in a secure night house behind the scenes while the zoo repairs his enclosure and tries to make it escape-proof – even though the existing interlocking steel cables already meet Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines. The USDA inspected the exhibit after the breach and concluded that the enclosure was compliant to regulations.

Jaguar escaped from Audubon Zoo exhibit

The small opening through which Valerio escaped.
Photo credit: Audubon Nature Institute

What if the breach had happened when the zoo was filled with visitors? And what if the jaguar had been able to chew through the zoo’s outer perimeter fence? Spokesman Kyle Burks described the latter scenario as ”conceivable” at a news conference.

In a news release, the Audubon Zoo said that it performs drills each year and maintains protocols for animal escapes “to ensure that emergencies of this kind are resolved as safely and quickly as possible.”

If Valerio had escaped during zoo hours, Burks said visitors would have been ushered into secure buildings. “Any time any of our dangerous animals are outside of their exhibit, we’re going to take action,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t matter where they are.”

Why Did Valerio Escape and Kill Animals?

Valerio was born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo in 2015, and he was moved to the Audubon Zoo last October. The jaguar may be a “lovable goofball,” but he obviously wanted to escape from his enclosure. Why?

Dr. Aletris Neils, executive director of the nonprofit Conservation CATalyst, has studied jaguars in the wild for 15 years. She told the Times-Picayune that Valerio has reached the age when jaguars naturally become more curious about their surroundings.

Valerio’s attacks are an example of “surplus killing,” Neils explained. This happens when cats’ hunting instincts kick in within an environment that’s been altered by humans. When cats enter hunting mode, movement determines how much they will kill — not how hungry or territorial they happen to be feeling.

With his prey trapped in their exhibits, Valerio was acting on instinct. “It was completely natural behavior that is in no way reflective of a bad cat,” Neils said.

Valerio’s killings are remarkable from a scientific perspective, according to Howard Quigley, executive director of the jaguar program at the nonprofit Panthera. Although the jaguar has spent his entire life in captivity and has never been exposed to live prey, he knew exactly how to kill the animals.

“It’s instinctual,” Quigley told the Times-Picayune. “That’s what they do for a living.”

Yet Another Reason Not to Keep Animals in Captivity

This behavior may be natural for jaguar, but it’s heartbreaking that nine helpless animals had to die because of it. The Audubon Zoo incident is yet another example of why many people who care about animal welfare oppose keeping wildlife in captivity.

Although zoos like to say they’re educational and helping with wildlife conservation, this isn’t necessarily true. For example, if zoos truly wanted to help save endangered and threatened species — like jaguars — instead of spending millions of dollars to breed these animals and then keep them confined, they could use that money to help protect natural habitats from being destroyed due to illegal hunting, deforestation and other causes.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Alexandria, Copper, Daisy, Elmo, Lil Melody, Maggie Mae, Micia, Noel and Rusty.

Photo Credit: adam w/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W21 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Veronica N
Veronica N4 months ago

Zoos are outmoded and unnecessary. They're little more than theme parks that sell entertainment at the animals' expense. It's time we stopped keeping animals on display.

Patricia W
Patricia W6 months ago

Glad they didn't kill Valerio. He was just doing what a wild animal would do - in the wild.
Too bad the other animals had to die.

Filomena C
Filomena C6 months ago


Georgina M
Georgina Elizab M6 months ago


Sheila D
Sheila D6 months ago

I'm thankful they aren't killing Valerio, especially since this is natural behavior in an unnatural setting. It's difficult enough to lose all those other animals. Thanks for the post.

Alexi G
Alexi GH6 months ago

Zoos do work for habitat protection and reduction of such degradation. The Audubon Nature Institute has a nature center that runs free of charge and uses staffing to protect 100 acres of Louisiana habitat in New Orleans East. It also funds the La Wetlands Project, the G.U.L.F (protecting fisheries), protects 1000 acres of wetlands on the West Bank of Lake Ponchartraine, conducts regular clean ups of damaged wetlands habitats, participates in research on nonvenomous snake die offs with a local biologist (research that determined that a natural gas pipeline was leaking, and potentially was the cause of the die off).

Do your research.

Roslyn McBride
Roslyn M6 months ago

I would not call that good news.

Michael F
Michael F6 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson6 months ago

Thank you.