Bobcat Missing at DC's National Zoo

"I'd be lying to you if I said that we're definitely going to get her back," a zoo curator said

A bobcat has gone missing at the Smithsonian's National Zoo after apparently escaping her enclosure, a zoo spokeswoman said.

The 25-pound bobcat, named Ollie, was last seen with two male bobcats at 7:30 a.m. Monday during a routine count. When a zookeeper went to feed the bobcats at 10:40 a.m., Ollie was gone.

D.C. police and the Humane Rescue Alliance are assisting in the search. A keeper said they are hoping Ollie will return to her enclosure on her own.

The bobcat exhibit and surrounding areas are closed, although the zoo itself remains open.

American University sent students a text message warning that the animal had escaped.

Zoo officials said there is no imminent danger to the general public or zoo guests. Anyone who spots the bobcat is advised not to approach her. However, bobcats are not known to be aggressive to humans, the zoo said.


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Dr. Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences for the zoo, said it looked like one of the ropes that holds the bobcats' mesh enclosure had broken. Smith said it didn't look like a deliberate act, but the break left a gap through which they believe Ollie was able to escape. 

Craig Saffoe, a curator for great cats at the zoo, said Ollie is a capable hunter and would be able to care for herself while on the loose.

"Cats are... they're survivors. This is not like she's out in an area, in an environment that she can't survive," Saffoe said, noting that bobcats are actually indigenous to the D.C. area, although rare. "This a very survivable habitat; it's one of the things that will make it very difficult for us to ensure that we can find her."

Saffoe said Ollie is equipped to survive and that the bobcats sometimes catch birds that land in their enclosure.

He said keepers are reasonably certain Ollie is in the general area, but he said he was not completely confident they will be able to find her.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure that we can get her back. The likelihood that we get her back? I mean, I'd be lying to you if I said that we're definitely going to get her back," Saffoe said. "We're setting everything up to get the best chances of success here."

He said it's more likely Ollie will return to her enclosure on her own.

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Smith said that keepers train for "events like this," so they immediately began a search after discovering Ollie was missing. However, they quickly changed tactics out of fear that they could end up scaring her away.

"We actually created a bigger perimeter search so that any looking would drive her toward her exhibit," Smith said.

Ollie has a chip for identification purposes but not a tracker. She was born in the wild and is close to 7 years old. Zoo officials believe she may return to her enclosure for food and shelter on her own.

"There's food; there's shelter; there's warmth at her exhibit," Smith said.

Bobcats can run up to 30 mph and are excellent climbers, according to the zoo's webpage on the animals. At the zoo, they eat prepared meat, mice, rats and chicks. In the wild, they eat rabbits, hares, squirrels and mice. 

"She is a carnivore, so for small birds, small animals in the area, which could even include small cats and dogs, she could be a threat," Smith said. "And I think the best way for people to think about this is: I would treat her the same way that I would treat a stray dog. You wouldn't approach a stray dog. And she's the same thing. She's not a threat unless you become a threat to her."

Anyone who spots Ollie should not approach her and instead should call a zoo hotline at 202-633-7362.

The most recent animal to escape the zoo was an agouti, which is a small mammal, in July 2015, a zoo spokeswoman said. The agouti escaped from exterior habitat but was found on the walkway and was easily recaptured, she said.

In 2013, a red panda named Rusty famously escaped from the National Zoo. He was recaptured in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood the following afternoon. Ashley Foughty spotted Rusty and tweeted pictures that helped keepers find him in a tree. 

Zoo officials said Rusty likely escaped the zoo by "climbing across a 'bridge' created by rain-laden trees and bamboo" -- and he probably did it for a snack of some nearby bamboo, they said. 

Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.

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