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Lists of Zoo Incidents: Dangling Feet & Trails of Blood

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 27th, 2007

ball zoo jaguar

In December 1985, at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, pregnant zookeeper Gayle Booth, 30, was fatally mauled by the above jaguar. Wild animals are dangerous, inside zoos and outside.

The mystery surrounding how the San Francisco Zoo’s tiger (below) escaped from the grotto may be slowly becoming solved. Human intervention could have been part of the cause.

sf tiger

San Francisco police are investigating the possibility that one of the victims in the fatal tiger mauling on Christmas Day climbed over a waist-high fence and then dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of a moat that kept the big cat away from the public, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday [December 26, 2007].

The minimal evidence found at the scene included a shoe and blood in an area between the gate and the edge of the 25- to 30-foot-wide moat, raising questions about what role, if any, the victims might have had in accidentally helping the animal escape.

The three victims, all young men from San Jose, were visiting the zoo together. They were all present just outside the tiger’s grotto when the tiger escaped, killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. with a savage slash to the throat, and injured the other two. The names of the survivors, who are brothers ages 19 and 23, have not been released.

The injured victims fled, leaving a trail of blood, which police believe the tiger followed for 300 yards up a zoo pathway. As the tiger cornered and attacked one of the brothers, four police officers arrived, distracted the animal and shot it dead. For rest of article, see, “Trail of blood apparently led escaped tiger to victims,” by Kevin Fagan, Jaxon Van Derbeken, Steve Rubenstein,Cecilia M. Vega, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writers, Thursday, December 27, 2007.

tatiana2

The above referenced article also contains this list:

sf zoo

S.F. Zoo incidents

Dec. 25, 2007: A Siberian tiger named Tatiana escapes and kills a 17-year-old San Jose boy and injures two brothers.

Dec. 22, 2006: Tatiana attacks and mauls zookeeper Lori Komejan, causing deep lacerations to her arms.

February 2001: A zoo employee is attacked and injured by the claws of a cassowary, a 5-foot-tall, 80-pound bird native to Northern Australia and New Guinea.

November 1994: Two Patas monkeys escape from the Primate Discovery Center. The monkeys are about 15 inches high and weigh around 35 pounds.

May 1990: Veteran zookeeper Alan Feinberg is attacked and bitten by a 90-pound Persian leopard as a crowd of schoolchildren watches in horror. The keeper is treated for deep wounds to his head and neck.

February 1990: A keeper suffers a lower back fracture after being knocked into a 10-foot-deep moat by Tinkerbelle, a 7,000-pound elephant.

October 1988: Tinkerbelle attacks animal health technician Gail Hedberg, who was treating the elephant for an abscess on its cheek. The elephant knocks the technician down and does a headstand on her. Hedberg suffers a crushed pelvis.

July 1985: Two Patas monkeys escape from the zoo and remain at large for six weeks before being recaptured behind the University of California medical complex on Mount Sutro.

April 1980: Five female City College students are caught fording the moat around Monkey Island. Police officers find a dead spider monkey in a duffel bag floating in the moat. The women are later given suspended jail sentences and six months’ probation.

January 1979: A male Indian elephant injures keepers, knocking one into the moat.

November 1976: A 175-pound South American jaguar escapes from the zoo’s animal hospital, where it was recovering from cracked footpads. Zoo director Saul Kitchener fells the animal, named Buster, with a dart from a tranquilizer gun.

February 1976: An antelope leaps over a damaged fence and knocks a visitor to the ground, causing head injuries.

March 1972: A 3-year-old girl suffers a broken jaw and deep facial cuts when a camel leans over a fence and bites the child in the face. It drags her over the fence and tramples her.

March 1971: A 300-pound female tapir escapes from her compound and is found wandering on Sloat Boulevard. The tapir bounds over two police cars, denting both, and then knocks a police officer to the ground.

August 1969: An escaped chimpanzee bites two keepers.

April 1968: Amos Watson, a visitor, is mauled by a 450-pound lion, suffering puncture wounds over most of his body. Watson had climbed over a rail and tumbled into the moat. The lion is killed by one shot from a keeper’s rifle.

August 1967: Zookeeper Robert Caldwell is badly bitten by a 400-pound orangutan. He was alone near the Great Ape Grotto when Big Red, the male orangutan, reached under the mesh-covered bars and grabbed Caldwell’s left arm, pulling it into the cage. Then Linda, a female orangutan, chewed on the keeper’s arm.

November 1962: May, a 6,000-pound elephant, attacks her keeper, battering him with her trunk and butting him with her head.

December 1960: A 500-pound lion reaches between the bars of its cage and hooks the arm of a keeper, who has to undergo two hours of surgery for his injuries.

May 1960: A 125-pound black leopard attacks a keeper who had been feeding the animal.

March 1949: A polar bear reaches through the bars of its cage and hooks a visitor’s arm.

Wild animals kept in zoos remain wild. Although we rarely hear about them, animal attacks happen all the time. Right before the deathly Royal Bengal tiger incident in San Francisco, a man was killed by a Royal Bengal tiger at a zoo in Assam, India.

At Guwahati, India, on Wednesday, December 19, 2007, a man trying for a better photo of the largest subspecies of tiger in a zoo in India was mauled to death when a second tiger grabbed him as his family looked on in horror.

Jayprakash Bezbaruah, 50, of Sivasagar, went past a barrier at the tiger exhibit at Assam State Zoo in Guwahati and stretched through an iron railing with his digital camera to get a shot of a relaxing tigress named Divya. He didn’t see the second tiger, Govardana, which grabbed his arm and Divya quickly joined in the attack.

Bezbaruah’s left arm was torn off and one of the cats clawed his face in front of his wife, two sons, a relative and other zoo visitors. Zookeeper Bapukon Baishya beat back the tigers with a stick and Bezbaruah was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Meanwhile, that same day, in another incident, wildlife officials tranquillised a leopard in the heart of Guwahati after the cat was reported to have been roaming the streets. The leopard had attacked and killed several goats and chickens in the area before being captured and sent to the zoo.

Internationally, there have been other captive animal attacks.

On Friday, February 9, 2007, panic gripped the visitors at Dhaka Zoo, Bangladesh, at noon when a Royal Bengal Tiger attacked its food provider inside the cage, came out of it and roamed the zoo premises for about half an hour. Finally, the zoo used a tranquillizer gun to make the tiger unconscious and carried it back to the cage. It took 14 people to carry the animal. At the Dhaka Zoo, a zoo tiger killed a visitor child in 1996 when he went close to its cage and a bear killed a zoo staff in 2004.

On Sunday, February 11, 2007, Karen Aerts, 37, entered the cheetah cage at the Olmense Zoo in Belgium and was mauled to death. One of the cats that killed her was named Bongo. Aerts had adopted Bongo under a special program, paying for food for the cat. She hid somewhere in the park after it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage.

On February 22, 2007, a six-year-old girl was mauled to death by a perfoming tiger at the Kunming Zoo, Yunnan province, China, as she was being photographed with the animal. It reacted to a flashbulb. The male tiger had been performing at the zoo since May 2005. Visitors paid around $2.40 for a photo with the animal.

The Associated Press has published a list, as well. I have added some other incidents to it:

List of Maulings by Captive Animals

Some maulings and other incidents involving captive animals in the United States:

Dec. 25, 2007: A Siberian tiger named Tatiana escapes from its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo, killing one man and mauling two others, before being shot dead.

Feb. 24, 2007: A 140-pound jaguar named Jorge fatally mauls a zookeeper at the Denver Zoo before being fatally shot. Zoo officials said later that zookeeper Ashlee Pfaff had violated the rules by opening the door to the animal’s cage.

Dec. 22, 2006: Tatiana reaches through her cage’s iron bars and mauls a female zookeeper during a public feeding at the San Francisco Zoo.

Dec. 22, 2006: The National Zoo in Washington is briefly shut down after a clouded leopard bolts from a wire-mesh enclosure. It is found snoozing just outside the exhibit 30 minutes later.

Nov. 29, 2006: Trainer Kenneth Peters, 39, is bitten and held underwater several times by a 7,000-pound killer whale during a show at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Adventure Park. Peters escaped with a broken foot. The 17-foot-long orca is the dominant female of SeaWorld San Diego’s seven killer whales. She had attacked Peters on two prior occasions, in 1993 and 1999.

Sept. 10, 2005: Three chimpanzees from Zoo Nebraska are shot and killed after they escape from their enclosure and could not be captured. A padlock on the cage was not completely closed after being cleaned, officials at the zoo in Royal, Neb., said.

March 3, 2005: Two chimpanzees at the Animal Ranch wildlife sanctuary near Bakersfield, Calif., attack a man and his wife, maiming the man, before being shot to death.

July 13, 2004: A state wildlife officer fatally shoots a 600 pound tiger that escaped from the property of former Tarzan actor Steve Sipek in Loxahatchee, Fla.

March 18, 2004: A 340-pound gorilla named Jabari breaks out of its enclosure at the Wilds of Africa exhibit at the Dallas Zoo and goes on a 40-minute rampage through a forest, snatching up a toddler with his teeth and attacking three other people before being shot to death by officers.

Oct. 3, 2003: Illusionist Roy Horn is severely mauled by a tiger during the Siegfried & Roy nightly show at The Mirage casino in Las Vegas, biting him in the neck and dragging him off stage.

Sept. 28, 2003: A 300-pound gorilla named Little Joe escapes from its enclosure at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, attacking a 2-year-old girl and a teen-age zoo employee, before being tranquilized. It was the second time in two months that the animal escaped.

Aug. 7, 2002: A catwalk over a shark tank collapses at New Orleans’ Aquarium of the Americas, throwing 10 visitors into the water. The 10, including four children, thrash around in terror for up to 15 minutes with the sharks swimming beneath their kicking feet before they were pulled out. No one is seriously hurt.

2002: A six-year-old boy was attacked at an elementary school near Santa Cruz, California. It happened when a wildlife education group brought in a tiger for “show and tell.” He needed 55 stitches on his head.

1998: At Marine World in Vallejo, California, a woman was attacked while posing for a photo with a Bengal tiger. The animal slashed her, causing serious injuries to her face and torso.

Dec. 8, 1985: At the John Ball Zoo, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, zookeeper Gayle Booth, 30, of Kent City, was making final rounds when she was attacked by a 180-pound male jaguar that apparently squeezed through a flawed doorway to gain entrance to a holding area used by workers. The jaguar fatally mauled the pregnant zookeeper.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


26 Responses to “Lists of Zoo Incidents: Dangling Feet & Trails of Blood”

  1. olejason responds:

    “Aug. 7, 2002: A catwalk over a shark tank collapses at New Orleans’ Aquarium of the Americas, throwing 10 visitors into the water. The 10, including four children, thrash around in terror for up to 15 minutes with the sharks swimming beneath their kicking feet before they were pulled out. No one is seriously hurt.”

    Sharks are probably the least dangerous animal listed above but probably the scariest to the average person.

    The primate attacks freak me out, especially chimps. It seems like they go for maximum bodily damage and it’s not about predation like with a big cat.

  2. Richard888 responds:

    olejason:
    It’s just that primates are immensly strong. A chimp is said to have the strenth of 5 adult men and a silverback gorilla the strength of 8 to 20. A small monkey’s grip can crush your hand.

  3. Alton Higgins responds:

    Here’s another report regarding an attack here at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The keeper’s arm was bitten off by a Malayan tapir.

    Oklahoma zoo animal bites off keeper’s arm

    November 20, 1998

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A large, hoglike animal called a tapir pulled a zoo keeper into its cage and bit her arm off as she went to feed the animal Friday morning.

    Lisa Morehead, who also suffered facial injuries and a punctured lung, was in critical condition and underwent surgery after the attack at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

    The arm was detached about the mid-biceps level, said Allen Poston, a University Hospital spokesman. The arm was too mangled and contaminated to be reattached, Poston said.

    Zoo officials aren’t certain why the Malayan tapir named Melody attacked the keeper, who was feeding the animal before the zoo opened. The tapir’s 2-month-old baby was also in the cage.

    Zoo director Steve Wylie said Ms. Morehead, 34, was pushing food through a small door into a holding area when Melody grabbed her by the arm and jerked her through the 2-foot-wide opening.

    “The baby was between Lisa and the mother,” he said. “From what we can tell, it would be the usual scenario of mothers protecting their young.”

    A grounds worker ran for help, and a group of employees dragged the keeper from the cage.

    A tapir is piglike in appearance and about the size of a donkey. It is related to the horse and rhinoceros. Tapirs browse on twigs and are herbivores.

    The animal, which can weigh several hundred pounds, is found in the jungles of Central and South America and Southeast Asia.

    The tapir will remain on display at the zoo.

  4. shamner responds:

    LSU’s live royal bengal tiger Mike IV, was released from his cage on November 28, 1981 when pranksters cut the locks on his cage. The tiger roamed freely for hours, attacked a small tree, and appeared to be enjoying himself before becoming trapped in the Track Stadium near his cage. Three tranquilizer shots later, the wandering mascot was returned to his home without further incident. Mike IV served as LSU’s mascot from 1976-1990. He died in 1995 of old age.

  5. kittenz responds:

    Note that nearly all the incidents involving members of the zoogoing public begin with “(the person) went past a barrier”, “reached into a cage”, or “was being photographed with”.

    All zoos, no matter how good they are, have problems. A really good zoo works hard to keep problems to a minimum and to correct them wherever possible. Most incidents during which a person is injured or killed are caused by negligence or human stupidity – such as allowing people to have photographs taken with dangerous animals, or drunken idiots climbing into cages.

    I love zoos (good ones). They are very necessary. People will support conservation efforts if they can see animals “in person”; it allows them to relate to animals in a way that is just not possible any other way. A good zoo is a wonderful educational facility.

    (I agree, olejason, the primate attacks seem to go beyond simple predatory or reactive behavior. Primates who “go over the edge” seem to really have it in for people. It’s as though they want to … I dunno … erase the person, not just hurt them.)

  6. Bob Michaels responds:

    The Bronx Zoo’s Tiger Island has great security. You can see their statement in today’s New York Post.

  7. kittenz responds:

    While I was in Florida at the end of October, I visited the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville. The garden is a large park/arboretum, with lots of ponds and streams and a small lake.

    One of the groundskeepers there was cleaning water hyacinth out of a pond, and a gator – there are several wild ones present in the park – came up out of the pond and just took the guy’s arm off at the elbow. They were unable to recover the forearm. The guy was back at work, but with a bandaged stump.

  8. shumway10973 responds:

    That’s why I like the idea of a game preserve better. The animals get to be themselves while the humans are kept contained thru the tour. People are stupid. Did ya’ll realize that there have to be signs in YellowStone that say, “Don’t hand your children to the bears”, or something along those lines. People have been trying to get their children as close to the wild bears as possible for the “cute” picture. Humans without any wildlife training don’t deserve to be in it without major supervising. Zoos need to just make the fences higher around the people trails and give the animals more room to move around in.

  9. Tengu responds:

    We have safari parks here and they seem very safe (I don’t know how many incidents they have had, perhaps they cover them up?)

    But I did see a boy get chomped by a sea lion he got too close to once.

  10. squatch-toba responds:

    At Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, we have one of the most successful Snow Leopard breeding programs in the world, as well as Siberian Tigers, Cougars, Lynx etc. I have never heard of any problems with these cats as far as physical attacks are concerned. I do remember many years ago, while visiting the Zoo with my oldest son when he was a young boy (3 or so), a Leopard was seemingly very aggressive towards my son’s red jacket. The cat would run up to the edge of the cage and snarl and hiss! My son was in a stroller so it was not a case of teasing or anything of that nature, just strange aggression. I guess my point is that something set that Tiger off, maybe teasing, or some one just too close, who knows? Just sad that the animal was pushed to the point it was and disaster followed.

  11. squatchwatcher responds:

    I agree with the statement that people are stupid. That’s why I never let my kids take pictures with the lions or tigers at the circus. I don’t even let them ride the elephants, you just never know how much abuse those poor animals have suffered at the hands of their human trainers. I know I’m being cold hearted when I say that the idiots who climbed over fences or got to close to the enclosures deserved what they got but that’s just me.

  12. Gary the Cat responds:

    Yeah-so the truth starts to become clear-3 over-hormoned teens provoke a wild animal trying to be clever.

    Shame the cat had to die for their idiocy.

    Even a pet dog can go beserk and rip you up-it happened to me in an unprovoked attack-you never ever let your guard down, especially around wild animals.

    Too many people ascribe human emotions to animals-most animals will only attack if threatened and would rather run away from trouble.

    Only the apes and elephants show their similarity to us by being vindictive!

  13. sschaper responds:

    Is there any evidence that the conjecture blaming the victims is correct? Have they said so – there were no cameras or other witnesses, apparently. Could it not have been PETA terrorists, such as have killed a lot of mink around here, by letting them loose into a wild they do not know?

  14. DARHOP responds:

    Gary the Cat responds:

    Shame the cat had to die for their idiocy.

    If it is proven that it was their idiocy that caused this horrific event. And it is looking like that might be the story. I could not agree with the above statement more! But we should remember this cat does have some history. I mean she has lashed before right. Sad situation all the way around.

  15. Alligator responds:

    At one of the local zoos I’ve watched people harass chimps and gorillas and usually one of three things will happen:
    1. The harassers get urinated on.
    2. The apes get a big mouthful of water and spit on them.
    3. The apes throw feces at them.
    In all three cases, the apes are deadly accurate up to 30 feet. I’ve tried to warn folks a couple of times when I saw what was going to happen but was usually told to mind my own business (in an impolite manner). I just stand back and watch the fun. The apes usually only specifically target those who are giving them a hard time and they have my complete sympathy and support (the apes, not the humans).

    In the case of zoo keepers getting injured its usually a situation of getting a little lax or distracted. It’s just hard to keep your guard on high gear when you work with an animal for months or years without any incident. Instinct in the animals on the other hand, never really goes lax. Sometimes keepers know they are in a dangerous situation but because of the nature of the problem they are taking care of, they have to take that risk.

    As for the fools who swim moats, reach through bars, jump fences and cut locks, I don’t know what else you can do to stop them short of having an armed guard present at every enclosure. It’s really hard to have any sympathy for idiots when they end of paying the price for their foolishness.

    In June of 2001, Phil Bronstein, the publisher husband of actress Sharon Stone went in a cage with 10 foot Komodo Dragon at the Los Angeles Zoo and got his foot munched on. The tour was arranged as a Father’s Day surprise for Bronstein who always wanted to see a Komodo “up close.” I had heard that the zoo didn’t want him in the cage but a generous donation persuaded them to let him in. Dumb, dumb, dumb! There is a reason these animals are called “land crocodiles” in Indonesia. I once owned a water monitor (Varanus salvator) and a Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) both scaled down versions of the beefier Komodo. The water monitor had a pretty good disposition, but still you couldn’t take him for granted and you sure didn’t want him to mistake your hand for food. They should be glad in Africa that Nile monitors don’t get as big as the crocs. They’re like velociraptors.

  16. Emonix responds:

    They just found out that the wall to the grotto is 12.5 feet tall not 20 feet tall.

  17. Rappy responds:

    Gary: I know the feeling. Someone once threw a rock at a border collie during a social event, then ran and hid behind some bushes, and I was the one to pay with the facial scars. Humans as a whole are a stupid species, and those that aren’t are usually the ones that realize that. I hate to sound harsh, but if it was a stunt like suggested, then it was only the fault of those performing it. My condolences to the families…

  18. kittenz responds:

    The boys may or may not have been acting boisterous around the tiger habitat, or even taunting the tigers. No one knows for sure. “Taunting” is open to interpretation. One person’s “taunting” is another person’s “playing”. Regardless, the tiger should not have been able to jump out of the pen.

    Now it comes out that the wall was only 12 feet high – a relatively easy height for an agitated tiger to jump. Plus there was inconsistency in what the zoo director said was the width of the moat. AND now they say that there really wasn’t a shoe or clothing found in the moat.

    Sounds like an attempt at a coverup to me.

    Those boys probably WERE horsing around and doing stupid stuff like meowing at the tigers or calling “kitty kitty” to them. Heck, they’re BOYS – even at 23 they’re arguably not fully adult men – and that is what teenaged boys do. Whether the behavior was malicious or even threatening to the tigers, however, is unclear. Maybe they were just romping around, and the tiger chased the movement, made a leap, and then panicked when she found that she had actually leapt out of her familiar habitat.

    Big cats in zoos are still cats. They will perk up and chase movement, especially the rapid, jerky movement of kids; I have used that to my advantage to get very good photos when I’ve had children with me at zoos. You can bet your boots I’ll never be so complacent about that again.

    I feel so bad for the dead boy’s parents. At least the kid must have died almost instantly, it does not seem that he would have lived for long with his throat torn out. But I imagine what if it had been one of my teenaged boys, goofing around at the zoo, and then suddenly in the middle of a nightmare.

    The AZA accredited that zoo. The minimum height for walls in tiger enclosures, by AZA standards, is 16.4 feet. I would think that at some point over the years the AZA inspectors would have measured the wall, but I guess it would not be realistic to think that they can measure every wall in every zoo. Realistically, I guess they have to rely on what the zoo tells them about the height of the walls, etc., but if the zoo said the wall was 20 feet high, that is nearly twice as high as it actually is. Surely they would spot that big a difference?

    I guess they’ll measure them now.

  19. kittenz responds:

    In my opinion the zoo has lost any credibility it had, knowing that the wall was under regulation height and reporting that it was 20 feet high.

  20. ETxArtist responds:

    Believe me, I’ve been professionally associated with zoos, and attacks, maulings, and other injuries are even more common that what it seems by looking at these lists. The problem is that people habitually working around animals get used to their presence and forget that may not be the case for the animals. Also, many zookeepers don’t have the educational background to understand the ethology and life history of the animals in their care, so may not be aware of the risks. Also, I have personally removed zoo guests from enclosures, including small children who have climbed fences and barriers into seemingly deserted pens or ‘off-limits’ areas while their parents looked on (particularly dangerous with small ambush predators that aren’t usually thought to be a threat, and so don’t have the typical security of bigger animals, due to the new anthropocentic approach taken by zoos). And I also know of at least one death of an elephant keeper not listed above, but don’t feel it would be appropriate to give details.

  21. DWA responds:

    “Big cats in zoos are still cats. They will perk up and chase movement, …”

    No kidding, kittenz. I was at the zoo in Tacoma, WA a few years back, watching a snow leopard. For whatever reason, a couple of keepers were leading a small ungulate – pretty sure it was a young reindeer – past the leopard’s cage, and not even that close to the cage. We all know how predators in zoo cages will generally not even seem to register the people outside except to regard them unconcernedly. This cat went into full stalk mode, focused like a laser on the reindeer. It’s as if those two animals were the only ones there.

    People can get pretty lazy – not even sure stupid is the word here – about animals in zoos. They don’t act as if they’re really all there. They’re more there than you think they are.

  22. kittenz responds:

    Snow leopards aren’t usually considered dangerous to people , DWA, but your story, and some experiences of my own with the snow leopards at the Cincinnati Zoo, give me pause to wonder.

    I have some beautiful photos of one of their snow leopards, in his outdoor habitat, stalking my nephew (only the snow leopard is in the photos). My nephew was eight at the time and he has ADHD. That cat completely ignored me, and it ignored other adults who were watching it. But when my nephew started to move around, that cat went from lazy snoozing to outright stalking in a flash. He seemed to flow up and down the rocks in his habitat, leaping gracefully and soundlessly from behind one rock to behind another. He seemed to be in a very playful mood. But I have no doubt whatsoever that had there not been heavy chain link between them, the cat would have pounced on my nephew like a housecat after a mouse.

    Interestingly enough, at the Cincinnati Zoo, while the tigers are in walled, moated outdoor enclosures, and lions and cheetahs are in big outdoor habitats that are fenced but not roofed, the snow leopards habitats are fully enclosed by heavy chain link, including a chain link roof. I suppose their extreme leaping ability precludes keeping them in a moated enclosue.

  23. kittenz responds:

    I just remembered another incident, that shows how seemingly insignificant things might trigger aggressive behavior in an animal.

    Another time at the Cincy Zoo, I was in the Cat House, at the caracal exhibit. At the time they had 3 or 4 caracals. I wore glasses at that time, and on the way to the zoo that day I had dropped my glasses, breaking the frame. Fortunately, since I couldn’t drive without corrective lenses, I had a pair of prescription sunglasses with me. They had very dark, oversized lenses. I put on my sunglasses in order to be able to see the caracals (which were in a naturalistic habitat, behind glass). One of the caracals immediately bristled up, laid back her ears, and hissed at me. Then she, acting for all the world like an angry Halloween cat, walked right up to the glass, never taking her eyes off my facel, hissed and spat again, and slapped the glass with her paw.

    A colleague, who had worked with the cats at the zoo for several years, later told me that caracal was normally “the sweetest cat in the world”, and that she was about 14 years old at the time and not known for aggressive behavior. I guess the cat thought that she was suddenly confronted with a strange animal and not her more familiar crowd of people, and that is what triggered the aggressive behavior.

  24. DWA responds:

    kittenz: I wonder sometimes about our presumptions about which animals are and aren’t dangerous to humans.

    When I was growing up I remember the same thing being generally said about cheetahs and mountain lions. Either of those animals would have no trouble with a small child – which they rarely get the opportunity to take – and of course the latter has killed adults.

    The elevation and remoteness of snow leopard habitat makes human targets of opportunity very rare. But I’d certainly be very much on the alert were I on my own in snow leopard country.

    In fact, this whole conversation has me paying attention. I’m now at a New Year’s get-together out at my sister’s place in West Virginia. There’s a few dogs here, including a Rottweiler, a big one. The Rott was around my bed last night, making a few sounds that were suspiciously like growls. I was on edge. When I found him lying on my sleeping bag this morning, OK, so I’m squeamish about huge dogs lying on my stuff, I was extremely glad when my simple request that he move was promptly complied with.

    As you said, kittenz, you don’t know what will set one off.

  25. Loren Coleman responds:

    For a December 31, 2007, update, on the tiger attack, see especially the last half of this posting:

    Year Ends With Zoos in News

  26. dogu4 responds:

    As great as zoos can be for a variety of reasons having to do with education and conservation they do still maintain a lingeringand unfortunate legacy of zoos as they used to be.
    It will I hope lead to a day when the idea of a zoological preserve, whether in an urban setting like SF’s or Chicago’s Lincoln Park or any of hundreds of others from the era of public menageries or one of the newer conservation/preserve oriented efforts, they will be as safe as possible for all animals, 4 legged and 2.
    What would make it all worthwhile especially would be their working in concert with efforts to re-wild our landscape and bring them back to the biological potential they still may support.



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