According to reports, the male jaguar fled its enclosure around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, before the zoo was scheduled to open to the public. A team of veterinarian managed to capture the jaguar, sedate him and secure him in his area about an hour after he escaped. However, during the time that he was on the loose, the jaguar killed six animals including four alpacas, one emu and a fox.
No people were injured, however, according to Kyle Burks, vice president and managing director for the zoo.
"He's a young male jaguar," Joel Hamilton, the zoo's vice president and general curator, told the Washington Post Saturday. "He was doing what jaguars do. Certainly his behavior wasn't out of the ordinary for that kind of an animal."
The zoo closed for the rest of the day Saturday, following the incident. It will reopen on Sunday.
"The animal care team is devastated by this tragic loss. Today is a difficult day for the Audubon family," a Saturday statement by the Audubon Nature Institute read.
"We care for these animals every day," Burks said, ABC7 reported Saturday. "We closed the zoo today to help our team mourn."
In addition, the Audubon Nature Institute announced in a Saturday press release that it is currently conducting an "auction review" to determine how the jaguar managed to escape.
"We take this situation very seriously and we're working to investigate everything that happened so we could prevent anything like this from happening again," Burks wrote.
This is not the first time that a jaguar has escaped its compound at Audubon. In 2001, a 70-pound cub fled for about 10 minutes before he was put down with a tranquilizer dart. No animals or humans were injured during that incident.
Ron Forman, the president and chief executive of the zoo, told the Washington Post Saturday that the attack was the worst in the zoo's history, but that the zoo is still safe for the public.
"The zoo, it's been here for 100 years," Forman said.
"In that time period, we've had over 100 million visitors to the zoo. We've never had an incident like that before. So I think statistically there's nothing to worry about the safety of coming to the zoo," he added.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, jaguars prey on more than 85 species. Lions and tigers are the only cats bigger than jaguars.