The male spotted leopard, which had been housed at the Columbus Zoo in quarantine since October, was euthanized Sunday after being crushed by a gate, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported Tuesday.
A zookeeper was preparing to feed the leopard and clean its cage by moving the big cat into an adjoining enclosure. As the zookeeper pulled the lever to lower the gate between the two enclosures, the leopard darted beneath and was struck on the neck by the gate, zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said. The leopard suffered a spinal cord injury.
"Because this animal had a history of being improperly fed, its bones were left in a permanently weakened state," veterinarian Tony Forshey told the Dispatch in an e-mail.
"In addition, it had a previously undetected genetic malformation to its cervical vertebrae [that was only detected after the incident by X-ray], which also left its spine extremely weak.
"Unfortunately, the combination of these factors meant that the leopard wasn't able to survive an injury that would have had little effect on a normal, healthy animal."
The leopard was one of six surviving animals owned by Terry Thompson, the man who released dozens of exotic-but-dangerous animals on his farm in Zanesville before shooting himself. Authorities shot and killed 48 of the animals to protect the public and took the rest to a zoo.