SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Norma Martínez was at home last Thursday in the western Puerto Rico town of Mayagüez when she received a call from her husband, who was doing chores behind their house, asking him to join him.
“He was scared and amazed,” she said.
When she exited, the couple came face to face with a shaggy, brown goat antelope with twisted horns running down her shoulders. The giant animal was near a fruit tree and rushed over.
As it was “an animal that we don’t usually see on the street”, they drove off in their car to see if they could spot it. Instead, they stumbled upon a herd of natural resource officials trying to capture the creature, called aoudad. Martínez has since spotted the mammal on several occasions.
The adult Aoudad escaped from Puerto Rico’s largest zoo, which has been closed since Hurricane Maria in 2017 on April 15. He has since lived in a mountainous and densely forested area of Mayagüez, escaping capture by the authorities and delighting and terrifying the townspeople. .
The herbivorous animal, around 7-8 years old, has been affectionately nicknamed “Rayo Veloz”, or Fast Lightning, by those who have seen it because of its speed at running. He was born at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayagüez, but his species is native to the dry mountains of North Africa.
“You are going to get the phone because you are going to register it, it disappears,” Martínez said.
He is part of a herd of 31 Audads living in the animal park and has stayed relatively close to the zoo fence since his escape, staying close to friends and family.
Rayo Veloz managed to escape the zoo through a small hole in the zoo fence. The zoo fence has been damaged since Hurricane Maria, said Lynette Matos, president of the Fundación Salvemos el Zoológico, a charitable volunteer organization that supports the zoo.
“On entering the forest it makes the capture much more difficult because it is under all the vegetation and you don’t know exactly where,” she said.
Mayagüez Zoo is home to around 250 animals, including lions, elephants, hippos, monkeys, snakes, birds and lemurs. In December 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $ 6.2 million for the wildlife park to undergo storm repairs.
Employees maintained “constant surveillance” of the Aoudad exposure, said Gerardo Hernández, Under Secretary for National Parks. He added that steps had been taken to repair Rayo Veloz’s escape hatch.
Now, a team of professionals trained to capture escaped animals are looking for Rayo Veloz, setting traps, and preparing to aim guns containing tranquilizer darts.
“They placed a series of cages equipped with sensors,” Hernández said. “We put food and water in it. There are no active streams in this area. Therefore, we understand that at some point he will try to find water. “
Emergency management officials also searched for Rayo Veloz with drones.
This is not the first time that an animal from the Mayagüez zoo has performed a Houdini number. In 2013, a female chimpanzee named Mara broke free from her exhibit, according to local media.
People were advised to stay away from the animal and immediately call authorities if they spotted it. Despite his intimidating size, he seems to be nervous after his jailbreak. Rayo Veloz, who is not a fan of city life, got stuck between a car and a wall and smashed a window as he tried to squeeze in. He also scraped the vehicle with his horns.
“The person received advice on the claims process,” Hernández said.
Mayagüezanos and Puerto Ricans across the island have taken to social media to chronicle their sightings and make jokes about the escaped animal.
In a video of Rayo Veloz walking on a paved path, an off-camera woman is heard telling her father to try to get him back inside while officials come to grab him.
“Are you mad?” he answers. “What if it hits me with those horns?”
Martínez’s husband Jaime Florenciani has had another close encounter with Aoudad in recent days. He said he was walking down the hill from his house as Rayo Veloz was going up.
“Thank goodness there was a huge palm tree, and I covered it up so he wouldn’t see me,” he said. “In an instant, I thought he was going to attack me.”
He estimates that the animal, which he said was as tall as him, was approaching 8 feet.
“Then he ran away … then stopped, turned his neck, looked at me to see if I was following him,” Florenciani said. “He kept walking until he reached the neighbor’s house.”
But the combination of his old neighbor’s cries – and his little “Chihuahua-style” dog yelps – drove the caprid away.
Florenciani and Martínez both hope that Rayo Veloz will be caught soon and that the infrastructure of the zoo will be repaired so that no animals escape. The couple live so close to the park that they hear the lions roar and the monkeys growl from their house. However, they would prefer not to house other exotic animals in their garden.
Still, they believe Rayo Veloz won his title.
“If he hasn’t been caught yet, it’s for a reason,” Martínez said with a laugh.
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