Authorities in easterns China have faced strong public criticism for concealing the escape of three leopards from a safari park.
They used drones and hunting dogs to search for the big cats, which got out from Hangzhou Safari Park on April 19
The escape was due to a lapse in operating procedures, officials said at a news conference Monday.
Hangzhou Deputy Mayor Wang Hong said police received calls that leopards were spotted last Thursday and Friday but the safari park denied any had escaped.
The safari park failed to report the escape because it feared that a public announcement would severely reduce the number of visitors to the park over China’s five-day Labor Day holiday, the officials said.
The park instead attempted to recover the leopards on its own, and captured one on April 21.
The safari park eventually reported the missing leopards on Friday night, and a second one was captured on Saturday, they said.
A Shanghai Zoo expert who examined the leopards said that the second one required minor surgery for an injury to its paw.
Officials said they are both in good health.
The last leopard was spotted by a drone early on Sunday, but fled when people attempted to approach it, according to the state-owned Global Times newspaper.
The delay in announcing the escape sparked criticism that the safari park had put people at risk, especially since the animals were at large over the Labor Day holidays, when large numbers of tourists visit Hangzhou.
The city is one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, famed for its tea plantations and scenic West Lake.
Five employees, including the general manager and legal representative of the safari park, have been taken into police custody for questioning.
The park has been temporarily closed while it reviews safety and management issues.
Officials urged people to remain indoors as much as possible while they attempted to recover the last leopard.
The safari park said on its Weibo social media account that it was “sincerely sorry” for not announcing the escape sooner.