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Animal escapes from Puerto Rican zoo, delighting and terrifying residents in nearby town

Syra Ortiz-Blanes, The Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Norma Martínez was at home last Thursday in the western Puerto Rican town of Mayagüez when she received a call from her husband, who was doing chores behind their house, asking her to join him.

"He was scared and amazed," she said.

When she went outside, the couple found themselves face-to-face with a shaggy, brown, goat antelope with twisted horns that reached down its shoulders. The giant animal was near a fruit tree and dashed off.

Since 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 again. Instead, they ran into a herd of natural resource officials trying to capture the creature, called an aoudad. Martínez has since spotted the mammal multiple times.

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 been living in a mountainous, densely forested area of Mayagüez, evading capture from authorities and both delighting and terrifying town residents.

The herbivorous animal, who is approximately 7 or 8 years old, has been affectionately nicknamed "Rayo Veloz," or Fast Lightning, by those who have seen him because of how quickly he can run. He was born in the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayagüez, but his species is native to Northern Africa's dry mountains.

 

"You go looking for the phone because you are going to record it, it disappears," said Martínez.

He is part of a herd of 31 aoudads living in the wildlife park and has stayed relatively close to the zoo's fence since escaping, remaining near friends and family.

Rayo Veloz managed to escape from the zoo through a small hole in the zoo's fence. The zoo's fence has been damaged since Hurricane Maria, said Lynette Matos, president of the Fundación Salvemos el Zoológico, a philanthropic volunteer organization that supports the zoo.

"Upon entering is the forest, he makes the capture much more difficult because he is under all the vegetation and we do not know exactly where," she said.

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