Bobcat escapes from National Zoo enclosure

WASHINGTON — A bobcat has escaped from her exhibit at the National Zoo, zoo officials said Monday.

The 25-pound female bobcat named Ollie is believed to have escaped through an opening in the mesh around her enclosure Monday morning.

The bobcat was last counted by zookeepers at 7:30 a.m. Monday, but around 10:40 a.m., Ollie couldn’t be found when keepers returned for the morning feeding.

After an initial search of the habitat and surrounding area, zoo staffers have not located the almost 7-year-old bobcat. D.C. police, U.S. Park Police and local animal control officers were all notified of her escape, zoo officials said.

A small portion of the great cats area was closed to the public while the search for Ollie continues. Zoo staff want to keep her exhibit quiet as they try to lure her back to more familiar surroundings where she knows she can find food, shelter and her two male bobcat exhibit-mates.

Rock Creek Park, which butts up against the zoo, is the perfect habitat for bobcats, making the search for Ollie more difficult, said Craig Saffoe, curator of the zoo’s great cats.

“This is bobcat territory,” Saffoe said.

He described Ollie as a capable hunter, who could easily survive in the wooded areas around the zoo.

“We’ve had birds who get into the exhibit who don’t make their way out,” he said.

Saffoe said trying to find a 25-pound cat in that environment will be difficult. She could be hiding on a tree branch above searchers, who’d never see her.

“I’d be lying to you if I said that we’re definitely going to get her back,” Saffoe said. “Our best bet is to back off and let her try to come back to an area that she’s familiar with.”

Zoo officials have set up baited traps as well as cameras that could detect her movements in hopes of recapturing Ollie. She is believed to be in the general area of the zoo.

Bobcats are indigenous to the D.C. region and can be found from Texas to New York. They are not endangered. The zoo displays the creatures to help visitors learn more about animals that can be found locally, Saffoe said.

Ollie, who was born in the wild, poses no threat to the general public, but she could be easily spooked if approached, Saffoe said.

Anyone who spots Ollie is asked not to approach her but instead to call zoo officials at 202-633-7362.

“I would treat her the same way that I would treat a stray dog,” said Dr. Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences. “She is not a threat unless you become a threat to her.”

This is not the first time an animal has escaped from its enclosure. Rusty the red panda become infamous for his brief escape from the zoo in June 2013. He was captured in a tree near a home in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

In July 2015, an agouti named Macadamia escaped his enclosure but made it only as far as the sidewalk, zoo officials said.

Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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