NEW ORLEANS -- The Audubon Zoo is closed after a jaguar escaped its exhibit Saturday morning, attacking and killing eight other animals.
Officials said around 7:20 a.m., an adult male jaguar escaped its habitat. The zoo was closed to the public at the time of the escape.
"One of our staff saw our 3-year-old male jaguar Valerio, was outside of his enclosure, and the zoo was closed at that time," said Dr. Kyle Burks, Vice President and Managing Director of Audubon Zoo. "Immediately he followed procedures, secured himself inside a building and alerted the rest of the team."
Staff and security were able to sedate the jaguar by 8:15 a.m., but authorities said four alpaca, an emu, and a fox who were in nearby habitats did not survive. As of Sunday afternoon, another alpaca and fox died from their injuries. Currently, one other fox, Rusty, is recovering from his injuries, zoo officials say.
No people were injured, and the animal was secured in its night house, officials said. Valerio is one of two jaguars housed at Audubon Zoo.
"The animal care team is devastated by this tragic loss," said Frank Donze, Audubon Zoo communications specialist. "Today is a difficult day for the Audubon family."
According to an update from zoo officials, it appears the roof of the habitat was compromised, however the matter is still being investigated. No animals will be housed in the enclosure until the investigation and repairs are completed.
"In the history of Audubon, at least the last 50 years, we have not had any incident," said Ron Forman, head of the Audubon Nature Institute. "This is by far the biggest incident, the biggest magnitude, the biggest tragedy we've had."
Forman insisted visitors should feel safe coming to the zoo.
"These animals belong to the public, they're part of nature," Forman said. "So, we have a responsibility to protect them. The zoo is a safe place to be, there's no fear at all as far as the visitors. In over 100 year period, we've never had an incident to create a problem for the public."
Officials said there are protocols in place if an escape happened during hours where the zoo would have been open, and employees run drills multiple times a year to prepare for that situation.
Zoo officials said they will not put the jaguar down under any circumstance. They added that the zoo passed accreditations in April 2018, and must go through the accreditation process every five years.
The zoo plans to reopen Sunday, July 15 at 10 a.m., and counselors would be on hand for Audubon employees, officials said.