THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Friday, December 22, 2006 - Last updated 12:10 p.m. PT
WASHINGTON -- The National Zoo was briefly shut down Friday after a clouded leopard was discovered missing from a wire-mesh enclosure, and the animal was found snoozing just outside the exhibit 30 minutes later.
Mook, a 5-year-old, 24-pound female, apparently escaped overnight, zoo spokesman John Gibbons said.
Zookeepers realized she was missing shortly after 7 a.m. and alerted other staffers, he said. Joggers and other early morning visitors were escorted off zoo property, while others were ushered into a building for safety.
Gibbons said one of the keepers found Mook sleeping just outside the exhibit on the new Asia Trail. She was anesthetized with a tranquilizer gun shortly after 7:30 a.m. and returned to captivity.
"Everything went according to plan," Gibbons said. "Fortunately, we train for this kind of thing."
According to the Web site of the Clouded Leopard Project, a conservation group, the animals are medium-sized wild cats with cloud-like spots and are a separate species from regular leopards. They are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.