A zoo in China has come under fire for its mishandling of three leopard escapees, including their decision not to tell the public that the predators were on the loose.
The leopards had been wandering around one of China's most populous cities for almost three weeks before the Hangzhou Safari Park came clean.
According to The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet, the trio of leopards had escaped Hangzhou Safari Park on Apr. 19, when two staff members failed to follow procedure while cleaning the park.
However, it wasn't until May 8 — almost three weeks later — that the park alerted the public.
By then, sightings of the leopards had already been reported to the police by residents who spotted the big cats roaming around a village.
Zoo worried about affecting business
Local officials said that the park had decided not to disclose the missing leopards to the public as it was worried the news would affect its visitor count and revenue during the May Day holidays.
These holidays can attract millions of tourist to Hangzhou.
In a statement issued on May 8, the park apologised for covering up the big cat break out, citing the age of the leopards as a reason.
"We are deeply sorry for delaying the announcement. We thought juvenile leopards are weak and will not pose a great danger, so we decided not to announce their escape to avoid causing public panic," read the statement as reported by The Global Times.
Two found, one still missing
So far, two of the three leopards have been recovered, though not without controversy.
A video has circulated online showing the one of the leopards fending off a pack of pit bulls.
The South China Morning Post reported that both the dogs and the leopards were injured during the rescue mission.
The third juvenile is still at large and according to The Guardian, authorities have released around 100 live chickens as bait to find it.
Leopard tracks have since been found near some mountain villages; residents there have been advised to secure their doors and windows and to avoid leaving the house.
Yet, an expert from the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told The Global Times he was skeptical of the leopard's chances of surviving.
"It is either hidden or already dead," said Zhang Jinshuo, who explained that as the big cat had been raised in captivity and was still a juvenile, it would have limited capability to survive in the wild.
Top image screenshots from CGTN's YouTube Channel