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Authorities shoot escaped leopard that killed woman

April 29, 1997

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A leopard that escaped from its cage at an animal sanctuary and killed a woman was shot to death as it loped up a road after dark.

The Persian leopard burst out of its cage and attacked the woman Monday in a fenced run at the Oak Hill Center for Rare and Endangered Species. It ran into woods and came out more than seven hours later after authorities baited a path and its cage with fresh meat.

The 60- to 70-pound leopard apparently used its weight to force open its locked cage to get into the run, where the body of Eunice Esquivel, 52, of Puerto Rico was found.

She had been visiting her son, who works at the center, and apparently had gone to feed the animals, which she had done before, officials said.

After the leopard escaped, officers went door to door in the lightly populated area to warn residents of the danger. Police met school buses and escorted children to their homes.

Sharpshooters combed the area and a police helicopter circled overhead.

Sheriff’s deputies opened fire on the leopard, a male, after it made one last leap for freedom, coming down in a culvert along the road less than half a mile from its cage.

There was no attempt to take the cat alive. It may have been heading back to the compound to return to its mate, officials said.

``Our concern is once an animal kills a human, it has a propensity to do it again,″ Sheriff John Whetsel said. ``We’re not going to take any chances.″

He called the attack on Mrs. Esquivel ``savage.″

Scott Aynes, the center’s director, wouldn’t comment before the leopard was shot, except to say: ``At this time, our top priority is the safety of the public.″

The center rehabilitates injured exotic animals before returning them to zoos around the country. Whetsel said it was licensed by the state Wildlife Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He knew of no previous problems.