- The Hangzhou Safari Park in Hangzhou, China, kept quiet about the fact that three leopards had escaped the zoo.
- Search operations only began a week later, when videos surfaced of the leopards prowling around a villa.
- Two leopards have been found, but one is still on the loose.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
A Chinese zoo is under scrutiny for keeping the escape of three leopards from a big cat enclosure under wraps.
According to Chinese media outlet Sina News, the Hangzhou Safari Park stayed silent for almost a week about the fact that three big cats had slipped out of their enclosure at the zoo. The attraction remained open and the public wholly unaware of the leopards' escape – even as alarming pictures and videos of the big cats prowling about in a wooded area near the zoo trickled in.
Sina noted that the big cats are suspected of having broken out of their enclosure at the safari park – a 490-acre tourist attraction in Zhejiang province – at the beginning of the May Day holiday, a peak travel season in China which started on May 1.
The park is a popular tourist hotspot in eastern China. Around 50,000 people visited the park during the five-day Labor Day break, according to the South China Morning Post.
The zoo only raised the alarm about its feline escapees after videos circulated widely on Chinese social media site Weibo on May 7, showing what looked like a large leopard roaming in the Jinyuan Mountain Villa, a housing area one mile east of the safari park.
On May 8, the local government in Fuyang District, within which the safari park is located, announced that two leopards had been found, tranquilized, and returned to the safari park – but one leopard is still loose.
According to CNN, the Fuyang District authorities are searching on foot and deploying drones and hunting dogs. The local government said it would not take long to find the last leopard, as search teams spotted fresh leopard tracks on Monday morning, local time.
The park remained open until Saturday – and according to Chinese media outlet The Paper, when questioned, staff at the park initially denied that the leopards had escaped.
The zoo only announced that it would be "closing temporarily" due to "safety issues" on May 8. It released a statement on Weibo the same day, apologizing for not alerting the public to the leopard's escape.
"We considered that the leopards were only juveniles and would not pose a huge threat. We were also worried that it would cause panic if we announced the incident," said the statement.
It is unclear how the three leopards got loose, but Sina News separately wrote that a likely explanation for the big cats' escape might have been a metal grille in the enclosure that was not repaired or maintained for years.
The Hangzhou Safari Park did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
According to the Chinese media outlet Renmin Daily, five members of the zoo's management committee are being investigated by the local government for the egregious safety lapse, including the zoo's CEO, Zhang Dequan.