By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) -A 25-pound (11.3-kg) clouded leopard that escaped its habitat at the Dallas zoo and remained at large for more than six hours while officials shut down the park and issued a special "Code Blue" alert, was found safe on Friday afternoon, zoo officials said.
Nova, a 3- to 4-year-old female, had been reported missing shortly after 10 a.m. local time, prompting a "Code Blue" alert, which notifies all staff that a non-dangerous animal is missing. The big cat was ultimately found close to its mesh-enclosed home, the zoo said.
"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 located very near the original habitat, and teams were able to safely secure her just before 5:15 p.m.," the zoo said in a statement posted to social media.
Zoo staff and local police spent much of the day searching the 106-acre (43-hectare) park for the escapee, predicting that Nova would stay close to home due to the territorial nature of cats -- and a fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the grounds.
"More likely than not when she's scared she's going to climb a tree, stay out of our way, hunt some squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed," Harrison Edell, the zoo's vice president for animal care and conservation, said earlier in the day. It was not immediately clear if Nova had been found in a tree.
Edell said it unknown exactly when the cat made its getaway, but appeared to have slipped through a tear in the mesh fence of her habitat sometime overnight. The second clouded leopard, Nova's sister, did not escape, he said.
He said it was not clear how the mesh became torn but added it was too soon to rule out human involvement.
Clouded leopards, so-called because of their cloud-like fur patterns, are in decline in the wild where they inhabit dense forests in the foothills of the Himalayas, Southeast Asia and South China.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)