Valerio is ready to greet the public again, from a fortified pen designed to keep his bone-crushing bite to himself.
Audubon Zoo officials announced Monday that they will reopen the New Orleans zoo's jaguar habitat with 3-year-old Valerio, nearly seven months after the male jaguar broke through a steel wire barrier and mauled nine other animals early on a Saturday morning in July, killing them all.
Days after five alpacas, an emu and three foxes fell victim to Valerio's predator genes and powerful jaws, zoo officials acknowledged that the 160-pound jaguar had chewed through a stainless steel wire barrier in the roof of its enclosure before gaining the run of the zoo.
The zoo’s accrediting body, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, sets minimum standards for the thickness and width of steel wire barriers to contain jaguars, which have the strongest bite force, pound for pound, of any big cats in the world. If those specifications were followed, it wasn't enough to keep Valerio at bay.
His deadly path included alpacas named Noel, Michia, Alexandria, Daisy and Lil Melody; an emu named Elmo; and foxes named Copper, Rusty and Maggie Mae. Some of those animals were found dead, while others died later.
A tranquilizer dart ended the carnage. Valerio, who came to Audubon in 2017 from the San Diego Zoo and turns 4 years old in March, has remained in isolation since then, as zoo officials designed and built a stronger enclosure.
"Following several months of research, manufacturing and repairs, Audubon Zoo will reopen the jaguar habitat," the zoo announced Monday. "The zoo has been caring for its male jaguar behind the scenes while the exhibit was undergoing modifications to exceed current industry standards."
The first Audubon Zoo staffer to notice something was wrong was feeding the animals in the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit early Saturday morning.
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Valerio will be the only jaguar in the exhibit when he returns. Ix Chel, a 21-year-old female jaguar that shared the enclosure with Valerio, died in September of kidney failure.