Officials of the Hangzhou Fuyang district government never thought they’d ever need to make such an announcement. The pressure was mounting. With every moment, the region was gripped by more fear that bad news might soon emerge.
The cover-up sparked outrage when it came to light. Now people were aware of the danger, and officials were scrambling to limit the damage already done. No one knew if it was already too late.
Around the fourth week of April, the Hangzhou-based organization first realized the problem. Now the danger was out there on the loose, and no one knew. By early May, China was due to have its annual Labor Day holiday, a five-day occasion.
The danger was only heightened with all the crowds and people mingling. Instead of being concerned for their safety, the officials’ decision was unconscionable.
The situation was dire. Officials in such situations tended to hide mistakes rather than admit and fix them. This was precisely the case in Hangzhou. At first, an emergency meeting was held.
Officials discussed releasing the information to the public at first. Then, someone raised another consideration. They decided to place self-interests above public safety, a decision they would regret deeply.
Residents of Hangzhou, one of China’s largest cities, had begun preparing for the Labor Day celebration. None of them had any idea of the danger they were in.
The cover-up might have been understandable if the reasons were sound. However, in this case, officials had no excuse to justify their actions.
At first, officials kept their search efforts private while trying to quietly undo their mistakes. They initially hoped to cover up the entire mess without a fuss being made.
The attitude was that if this could be fixed quietly, there was no need for alarm. Early on, they received some good news, and for a moment, it seemed like the whole incident might just blow over quietly. The problem was—it didn’t.
When officials reported that one of the escapes had been tracked down and secured, they became hopeful. There was, however, still a significant threat out there, and they could not afford to rest until it was contained.
Days passed, and reports began to slowly emerge. The public was slowly catching on to the truth. There had been many chances to come clean. Instead, they continued denying the problem until the threat grew out of hand.
As Labor Day approached, officials realized that things had gone too far. Only then did they finally come clean to the local government about what was happening.
The search and containment efforts were given a much-needed boost. The problem was that no one knew if it was already too late.
With local government assistance, strange new tactics were deployed. Without any context, it must have appeared to be a bizarre process indeed.
By the end, the search effort consisted of government officials, animal experts, local authorities, park employees, dogs, chickens, night vision equipment, and drones, all deployed for specific reasons.
When Labor Day celebrations finally came around, some 97000 people visited the main site. They were all blissfully unaware that a severe threat to their safety was loose.
The mounting pressure came to a boil when video footage of one of the search efforts went public. The shock and outrage were immediate. The park had to finally come clean with the truth.
After weeks of denials and cover-ups, officials from the Hangzhou Safari Park finally admitted their blunder. While cleaning their enclosures, not one but three fully grown leopards had escaped and were on the loose in the city.
Residents had already begun spotting the animals around the local woods and even in the streets. Although first denying it all, the park finally claimed responsibility. However, there was still a huge problem.
Early on, one of the leopards was tracked down and caught. Some 1700 personnel and several unique tactics were used to track down the other two. The second leopard was finally caught but was severely injured by the tracker dogs used to find it.
The negligence that led to the animals escaping caused enough outrage on its own. When the public learned why it was initially covered up, locals demanded accountability for those involved as their reasons were considered unforgivable.
When news finally emerged, and the truth was revealed, Labor Day celebrations had already passed. It turned out that when officials of the Hangzhou Safari Park learned of the leopards’ escape, they could have warned the public then.
Instead, as Labor Day was approaching, they realized that alerting the public would lead to a loss of revenue for the park on Labor Day. The truth was that public safety was not deemed as important as the loss of ticket sales at the time.
In the end, the search for the third leopard required more than 100 chickens to be used as bait, and 990 drones needed to be deployed. The expert tech included a parachute vehicle operated by a licensed pilot, infra-red sensors, and a host of other personnel, animals, and tactics.
The massive effort, the scale of the cost, and reputational damage within the region were felt for months. Five officials from the park were arrested. Despite all this, the risk only increased.
Experts weighed in on the plight of the last escapee. So much time had passed that the third leopard was now likely weakened. Most people thought this was a good thing. The truth was that it actually made the situation more volatile.
Initially, the danger of a person being attacked was slim. However, since it was now probably on the brink of starvation, this opened up the possibility that it may become desperate. Therefore, the risks posed by the last leopard had actually increased.
More than six months after the entire debacle unfolded, the park quietly reopened for business. The entire incident had been a costly, public lesson in accountability.
Life in Hangzhou finally returned to normal, and residents soon began getting over what had happened. In the end, the third leopard was never found. Most experts believed it had likely perished from starvation, but no one was ever really sure exactly what had happened to it.