Report from Danny Carr
WHEN one of the rarest cats in the world got stuck up a tree, its owners did not call the fire brigade.
Instead, with armed zoo-keepers standing guard, a curator was hoisted by forklift truck to shoot a tranquilliser dart into Jade, a two-year-old Amur leopard, an endangered species of which there are only 33 left in the wild.
But the rescue of the leopard, which had escaped from her new enclosure at Marwell Zoo, near Winchester, went disastrously wrong when the drugged animal fell 13ft from the oak tree and died.
Mark Edgerley, the zoo's chief executive, said that Jade had taken fright when she was released into the £189,000 enclosure with her three-year-old partner, named Akin.
The labrador-size cat hurled herself through a tiny gap between the mesh roof and the tree and clawed her way nimbly into the canopy of the oak, more than 30ft above the ground.
She could have fled into the Hampshire countryside only if she had clambered from the tree to the outside.
Mr Edgerley said: "We surrounded the enclosure with staff quickly, some of them armed. After an hour, we decided she was not going to come down of her own accord."
The general curator, Gordon Campbell, was lifted up on a forklift truck but his first shot hit a branch. With his second, he hit Jade's hind leg, putting a "normal dose" of tranquilliser into her.
Mr Edgerley added: "We knew she would fall from the tree. She fell about four metres, but unfortunately she got lodged in a fork of the tree.
"We tried to revive her, but she died. We do not know what caused the death and a post-mortem examination is taking place."
The remaining Amur leopards are found in southern Siberia, near Vladivostok, on the Russian border with China. There are 104 in zoos and Marwell Zoo planned to breed from the pair. Instead, Akin will be housed elsewhere.
The Times, September 24, 2003
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