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Meet Nova, the missing -- then found -- clouded leopard at the Dallas Zoo

Law enforcement and zoo officials said Nova escaped through a tear in the mesh of her enclosure.

DALLAS — Dallas Zoo employees on Friday morning went to check on the two clouded leopard sisters in their enclosure. 

The only problem? One was missing.

Nova had escaped through a tear in the mesh of her enclosure that Dallas police said may have been "intentionally cut." A criminal investigation into how that hole formed is currently under way.

The good news? The can has been found, according to an announcement shared by zoo officials shortly after 5:30 p.m.

"We are thrilled to report we located clouded leopard Nova on-grounds at the Zoo this afternoon at approximated 4:40 p.m.," the zoo announced in a statement. "She was first seen very near the original habitat, and teams were able to safely secure her just before 5:15 p.m. Initial indications are she is not injured. She is being evaluated by our veterinary staff right now. We’ll provide further updates on her status tomorrow."

Nova, along with her sister Luna, is one of two clouded leopards kept at the Dallas Zoo. 

The two sisters are each 3 to 4 years old, and they weigh 20 to 25 pounds apiece, which is typical for adult female clouded leopards, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Here's what we know about Nova, her sister and clouded leopards in general:

What is a clouded leopard? 

Dallas Zoo officials emphasized Friday the difference between a typical leopard and a clouded leopard. 

Clouded leopards are smaller and not considered to be dangerous. In fact, the "code blue" issued by the Dallas Zoo when Nova went missing is for the search of non-dangerous animals.

How big is a clouded leopard? 

It can vary greatly between genders. Male clouded leopards can weigh up to 50 pounds, while females, like Nova and Luna, weigh 20-25 pounds.

What is a clouded leopard's life span? 

Clouded leopard's have a life span of 12-15 years but can live up to 17 years in human care, according to the Smithsonian zoo.

When did Nova and Luna come to Dallas? 

Nova and her twin sister Luna were born at the Houston Zoo in 2019. The twins received 24-hour care for their first few months before making their public debut in 2020.

“Nova and Luna have transformed from wobbly little balls of fluff last November, to graceful ambassadors for their species today,” the Houston Zoo posted on its blog on their first birthday. “It has been an adventure watching them grow.”

They spent their first year in Houston before arriving in Dallas in 2021. 

Their parents, Suksn and Tarak, arrived at the Houston Zoo six years earlier -- and it was love at first sight. They were hand-reared by zoo staffers and quickly became inseparable.

What are Nova and Luna's personalities like? 

In an update last March, zoologists described Luna as "a lot more comfortable in her new surroundings and she warms up faster to the people around her."

But Nova was still "a little aloof, which is very typical of the species," one zoologist said.

"She'll stay up high even when we're in the habitat, but she's definitely coming around a little bit more," the zoologist said.

Nova, at the time, had started to make sounds that were more of a greeting, which is a common way clouded leopards express how they are feeling.

Nova, when scared, is likely to climb a tree, "hunt some squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed," said Harrison Edell, an executive vice president at the zoo, in a press conference on Friday. 

"Thinking like a cat, she likely went straight up to the trees and has not come down," Edell said.


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