Dallas police investigating after clouded leopard escapes from intentionally cut zoo exhibit

After an hours-long search, the clouded leopard that escaped from its Dallas Zoo exhibit was found Friday night.

Dallas police and zoo officials announced earlier Saturday afternoon they believe Nova, the 4-year-old clouded leopard, escaped from an opening in its enclosure that was intentionally cut.

Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, explained that when staff did a headcount and check of the zoo's exhibits in the morning, they discovered that Nova was missing and that the enclosure had been tampered with.

"We found a suspicious opening in the habitat wall at the front of the exhibit," explained Hudson. "It was clear that this opening was not habitat failure, it wasn't exhibit failure, and it wasn't keeper error."

DALLAS ZOO CLOUDED LEOPARD ESCAPES, MASSIVE SEARCH UNDERWAY

clouded leopard jumps
A clouded leopard cub runs at the Mulhouse Zoo in eastern France Aug. 28, 2020.

Dallas Police Public Information Officer Warren Mitchell concurred with Hudson's assessment of the situation.

READ ON THE FOX NEWS APP

"It is our belief that this was an intentional act, and so we have started a criminal investigation," explained Mitchell. "The fence that it escaped from was intentionally cut."

ZOO OFFERS THE PUBLIC A PEEK AT ENDANGERED SUN BEARS RESCUED FROM ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE

The massive search continued for hours until the animal was safely secured near its original habitat.

"Initial indications are she is not injured," a zoo statement said. "She is being evaluated by our veterinary staff right now."

Clouded leopard escapes home at Dallas Zoo
The Dallas Zoo was closed as officials searched for an escaped clouded leopard Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

According to Mitchell, authorities deployed drones that were calibrated to the heat signature of that particular animal to aid the search.

"These are very elusive animals. They live in dense forests up in the trees, so it's a very difficult animal to try and find," Hudson explained.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

According to Dallas police, zoo investigators also found a similar cut at a habitat that enclosed langur monkeys.

"All the langurs were still inside their habitat and did not appear to be harmed, or in any danger. A criminal mischief offense report was made [and] this is an ongoing investigation. It is unknown if the two incidents are related," read the statement.