Essex County Turtle Back Zoo orders lockdown after leopard eludes keepers

A 2008 file photo of Megan, an Amur leopard, at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange. Megan this morning slipped from the sight of her caretakers, causing zookeepers to issue a ‘code red’ lockdown, and moving patrons to safe areas. At no time was the leopard out among the general public.

WEST ORANGE — Patrons and staff had a brief scare this morning at Essex County’s Turtle Back Zoo after a leopard eluded her keepers, causing the zoo to be locked down and patrons moved to safe areas.

At around 10:45 a.m., Megan, an Amur leopard, slipped from the sight of her caretakers and hid behind a retaining wall in a zoo service building. At no time was she out among the general public, but zookeepers issued a “code red” and shuttered zoo gates when she was discovered missing, according to zoo officials.

“There was never any public at risk,” said zoo director Jeremy Goodman. “As part of our protocol, we secure all public into a safe area.”

The zoo, which opened early for the holiday weekend, closed down for about 45 minutes while personnel sedated the leopard. The animal was then taken to an animal hospital for evaluation, according to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. The zoo opened again at 11:30 a.m.

“Our staff did a great job,” Goodman said, adding that they were still investigating how the leopard got loose.

Megan has resided at Turtle Back for about four years. Her species is native to Southeast Asia. Amur leopards are threatened with extinction and only about 40 remain in the wild, mostly in isolated areas of southwestern Russia, northeast China and North Korea, according to zoo information.

Staff writer David Giambusso contributed to this report.
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