Chinese authorities are still searching for a third leopard that escaped from a wildlife park a month ago, after the zoo triggered a public outcry for not disclosing that three of the big cats were on the loose.
The trio of leopards escaped from the Hangzhou Safari Park in eastern China on April 19. But despite reports of sightings from local residents, the zoo denied the incident for fear of scaring visitors away during the International Labor Day national holiday in early May.
It only apologized for the escaped animals on May 8, more than two weeks after the zoo quietly recaptured one leopard. A second leopard was found the same day, although it suffered minor injuries. All three animals are about two-and-a-half years old and have not reached adulthood, officials said at a press conference last week.
The cover-up prompted online outrage over the park’s failure to warn residents and protect wildlife. Five managers there have been put under criminal investigation.
In order to find the last leopard, authorities have dispatched hundreds of workers, search and rescue dogs, and drones. Helicopters were also used to search an area of at least 25,000 acres, about as large as Paris. Thermal imaging cameras have been installed in the mountains and some 100 live chickens were released as bait to lure the animal out.
But the third leopard remains on the run. Zhang Jinshuo, a zoologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV last week that the animal might have died, since leopards raised by humans lacked the ability to survive in the wild.
According to a Sunday report by Southern Metropolis Daily, residents living in the search area said they were still too scared to go into the mountains to take care of their green tea fields.
The runaway big cats have been the subject of intense discussions on Chinese social media in the last two weeks. Some internet users say it reflects the prevalent lack of transparency in Chinese bureaucracy, which often sees companies and officials cover up potential wrongdoings in an attempt to evade public scrutiny.
“They can put people’s lives aside when it comes to profits, not to mention the little animals that cannot talk,” says a comment on the microblogging site Weibo.
“I’m speechless,” another Weibo user said. “I will boycott zoos from now on.”
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