Imani, a 4-year-old male cheetah, was back in a secure area after escaping from a fenced enclosure and experiencing a brief period of freedom Friday at Hogle Zoo.
The leopard-like animal escaped from an outside enclosure after maneuvering its way over an 8-foot chain-link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire about 10 a.m. Friday."It's very unusual for a cheetah to climb any height," zoo spokesman Andrew Wallace said Friday afternoon.
Wallace said zoo workers noticed the cheetah had been pacing back and forth in the enclosure in recent days. He said Imani may have become interested in four baby bighorn sheep that were in an enclosure just across a walkway from the cheetah exhibit.
After escaping, the 60-pound Imani walked a short distance down the pathway near the Giraffe Building before about 25 zookeepers contained him and walked him back to his exhibit.
No visitors, keepers or animals were hurt during the brief incident, zoo officials said.
After a zoo visitor reported the cheetah's escape, the zoo's emergency procedures were put into effect. After zoo staffers were notified via two-way radios, about 200 visitors, including school children, were secured inside zoo buildings.
Zookeepers assembled at the south end of the Giraffe Building to contain the cheetah with push boards, restraint equipment and tranquilizer guns.
But officials said only the push boards and some coaxing were needed to get Imani to slowly walk back into the exhibit. He was free for approximately 15 minutes.
Zoo officials said Imani was apparently able to get out of the enclosure by scaling two fences that were joined at about a 45-degree angle. Tufts of fur were discovered at the top of the fence.
Tension on the strands of barbed wire atop the fence had loosened enough to allow Imani to squeeze through, Wallace said.
Work began immediately to repair the barbed-wire strands; it was expected to be completed by the end of the day Friday. Also, maintenance crews will realign the 8-foot chain-link fence so that it would be more difficult for the cheetahs to escape in the future.
Imani and one other cheetah will be off exhibit while the repairs are being made.
Wallace said cheetahs are capable of inflicting severe injury, but Imani - nicknamed Mellow Yellow - is a "very mellow, calm cheetah. That worked very well to our advantage."
"We train for situations like this so we are prepared," Wallace said. "That's exactly what happened today. Our staff was extremely prepared."