A 25-pound bobcat escaped from the National Zoo on Monday and may have fled into Rock Creek Park, where it could be difficult to recapture, officials said.
The female cat, which can be a threat to small dogs and cats, is not a danger to the public but should not be approached, the zoo said.
“If someone attempts to capture her, then she could defend herself,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director for animal care sciences. “So do not try to capture this cat . . . You could get hurt . . . [or] you’d probably more likely just cause her to run away.”
The zoo asked anyone who sees the animal to call 202-633-7362 and report the time and location of the sighting.
Named Ollie, the bobcat was last seen in her enclosure at 7:30 a.m. When keepers returned to deliver breakfast at 10:40 a.m., she was gone.
A search was conducted, and when Ollie was not found, the zoo declared a “code green” alert for an escaped animal.
Smith said a careful examination of the bobcats’ outdoor enclosure revealed a small hole in the overhead mesh through which the animal may have escaped. The zoo has three bobcats — two males and Ollie.
She was probably attracted to the mesh by a bird or small animal on it, Smith said.
The staff is trying to lure Ollie back and the zoo said she may return to her familiar grounds for food and shelter.
The area around the bobcat exhibit is closed because the cat probably will stay hidden if a lot of people are around. Ollie was born in the wild, orphaned, and came to the zoo in 2013 from a facility in Texas. She is about 7 years old.
Bobcats are indigenous to this area “even though no one in recent memory has seen a bobcat in Washington, D.C.,” Smith said. “This is part of their historical range . . . This area is bobcat territory.”
And the bobcat enclosure is near the woods of Rock Creek Park.
Smith said pet owners in the area may not want to leave small dogs or cats outside unattended.
The zoo has put tasty food items in Ollie’s enclosure as well as traps around it. It has also set up special cameras that may spot her.
“If we go chasing after her, we would chase her away,” Smith said.
“We’ve got people at the zoo, 24 hours, looking for her right now,” she said. “But I can’t promise you that we’re going to get her back.”
According to the principal of Lafayette Elementary School near Rock Creek Park, the District’s public school system has suspended outdoor play in the adjacent neighborhoods until the bobcat is located.
In 2013, a female nonflying vulture named Natalie briefly escaped from the zoo when she apparently used a wind gust to soar out of her enclosure.
A code green was declared, and the vulture was caught moments later in an adjacent parking lot.
In a later incident that year, a red panda named Rusty caused a furor when he escaped by using overhanging tree branches to flee. Rusty got some distance away before he was captured. He was spotted in Adams Morgan by passersby and police were called.
Rusty was up in a tree but was nudged from his perch with a long pole and tumbled into a safety net.
Bobcats are brownish gray and have huge whiskers. They eat rabbits, squirrels and mice, as well as small deer, goats and chickens. They can run fast, climb well and leap into the air to nab low-flying birds.
They hunt with extraordinary patience, the zoo said.