My name is Valerio. One night last summer, I was a naughty little jaguar. Perhaps you heard.

On a whim, I escaped my enclosure and chomped several fellow residents of the Audubon Zoo.

My bad.

Had I known so many humans would be so upset about some alpacas going hooves up. … I still would have done it!

Because I am a jaguar. And you can take the jaguar out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the jaguar.

Truth be told, I was never in the jungle. I was born in San Diego, where it’s so civilized that not even the humans kill each other. I’ve never lived in the wild. Prior to that memorable night in July, I’d never offed anything.

So when given the opportunity — actually, I created the opportunity — I didn’t waste it.

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Ix Chel, my late roommate in the Jaguar Jungle, tried to talk me out of it. “What are you doing, Valerio?” she said, sounding like my mother. “They bring us food every day! We don’t need to hunt!”

And where is Ix Chel now? Dead of kidney failure, having never tasted freedom. Or alpaca.

She was 21 — an old lady in jaguar years. I am a 3-year-old male in my prime, ready for action.

And boy, did I find action!

I was patient. I bided my time. I watched. I listened. I explored my surroundings. I sniffed out a weakness. I bit through wire up near the roof, where no one would notice.

It was my own escape from Alcatraz.

Once I was free, it was game on. As I explained to Ix Chel, I wasn’t hunting. I was killing. And I must say — I liked it. I liked it a lot!

Alpacas, foxes, an emu — now that’s diversity. I do have some regrets about the foxes. They are (were) fellow carnivores, members of the same extended tribe.

Sorry, lads. But by the time I came upon your enclosure, I was in the zone. The killing zone.

Fun fact: I am officially the only jaguar IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE to bag an emu.

In the wild, emus and jaguars live on different continents, separated by the Pacific Ocean. At the Audubon Zoo, conveniently enough, we were separated by a bit of landscaping and some wire mesh that proved no match for my crazy-strong bite.

When I first arrived at the zoo in February 2018, my caretakers described me on social media as a “big, lovable goofball.”

And I am! I am! I’m a big, lovable goofball who just happens to enjoy, you know, slaughtering things.

The comedian Chris Rock did a great bit about the time a trained white Bengal tiger attacked illusionist Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy. At the time, people said the tiger went “crazy.” “That tiger didn’t go crazy,” Rock joked. “That tiger went tiger.”

Exactly. And I went jaguar.

Once upon a time, white tigers were Audubon’s star attraction. The tigers long ago departed for that great jungle in the sky.

Now I am the zoo’s resident bad boy. I’m back on display in what is supposedly a much stronger, “escape-proof” enclosure.

We’ll see. I’ve got nothing but time.

Meanwhile, come on down to the Audubon Zoo, and hear me roar.

Your favorite lovable goofball,


(as told to Keith Spera)

Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.