Officials at a safari park in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou have apologized after three leopards escaped late last month and no one notified the public.
According to a statement by Hangzhou’s vice mayor, translated to English by NBC News, the leopards escaped on April 19. The zoo kept news of their disappearance quiet, however, citing concerns it might diminish visitors to the park during a busy holiday week.
Hangzhou Safari Park saw roughly 50,000 visitors a day during that period, the South China Morning News reports. The city itself has a population of around 10 million people.
The zoo denied any sort of security breach even after residents in the area reported spotting leopards to police on May 1, the state-owned news source Global Times reports.
Those reports were corroborated by surveillance video of a large cat roaming a residential area just east of the zoo and a photo of another leopard in the nearby Zhuantang Mountain Forest.
It wasn’t until May 8 that Hangzhou Safari Park acknowledged it was the source of the mystery leopards. In a statement, the zoo said it was “sincerely sorry” and tried to downplay the animals’ threat to the public, noting they were juvenile leopards and therefore “less aggressive.”
The Shanghai Daily, also a state-owned news source, reports that police have detained five zoo employees and that two of the three animals have since been recaptured.
China’s zoos have long faced criticism for poor conditions and neglectful upkeep, imperiling both the animals in their care and the zookeepers who care for them.
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