July 22, 2011
An endangered leopard is back on display after injuring a child earlier this year at the Sedgwick County Zoo.
The accident happened in May. Witnesses say a 7-year-old boy climbed the outside fence to the exhibit, getting close enough to the leopard for her to grab him.
Friday, after the exhibit sat empty for around two months, the leopard returned home. Zoo staff, volunteers, and visitors watched as the Amur leopard, named Nia, took her first steps back into her exhibit.
"It was kind of like a kid at Christmas, like a new present," said visitor Jeanette Blackwell.
Blackwell and Danielle Nance, both teachers and zoo regulars, wanted to make sure they were there for Nia's return. They were among those able to see her for the first time after the zoo took her off display following the May accident.
"It was just sad. It was sad for her, sad for the student," said Nance.
But Friday, there were smiles when the zoo returned her after weeks of health exams, improvements to her exhibit, and reviews of the zoo's policies and procedures.
"It's just a part of the process. We wanted to be able to look at everything that we could," said Senior Zookeeper Danielle Decker.
Now, the zoo says it's determined the policies and procedures in place do insure safety for visitors, saying Nia shouldn't pose a danger to anyone following the rules.
"This cat was born in a zoo, she understands her environment, and we try to make it safe everyday that we work here," said Decker.
Nia is one of the few left of her kind, with only 35 to 50 Amur leopards left surviving in the wild. It's just one reason the zoo says it's happy to have Nia back to help educate and entertain visitors at the zoo. And visitors Friday morning said they're glad she could return after an accident that was unfortunate for all involved.
"I felt bad for the little boy, but also for the leopard because she was just protecting her home," said Blackwell.
The zoo also submitted information to the USDA and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for their review. They haven't received any word that changes will be necessary.
The boy who was injured in May was on a field trip at the time of the accident. He was treated at the hospital and released shortly after.