Animal Attack Files Special ReportSpecial Report forwarded by AAF Correspondent: Jeff Dykes
from Evansville Courier Press

HOME   Zookeeper mauled by lion at Mesker Zoo
By ELLA JOHNSON, Courier & Press staff writer

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

Animal Attack

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A zookeeper on the job for less than a month was mauled by a lion at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Gardens Wednesday morning. 34-year-old Junius E. Sneed IV , of 2220 Washington Ave., was attempting to move Benny, a six-year-old African lion, from an indoor lions den to an outdoor enclosure when the animal clawed Sneed on the right arm and drew it inside the cage biting him, according to police and zoo reports.

"When we got there his arm was inside the bar, deep inside," said Greg Knight, one of the first firemen to arrive on the scene around 8:20 a.m.

Knight said the skin and muscle on the zookeeper's right arm had been ripped back exposing a broken bone. He said it appeared the small finger on Sneed's left hand had been severed.

Knight said the compound fracture prevented Sneed from retracting his arm through the bars. He said firefighters from Hose House No. 5 sawed off the section of bars around the arm and removed them from the cage. "We used what we call the jaws of life to spread the bars and get him out," Knight said.

Sneed was taken to Deaconess Hospital. Hospital officials declined to release any information at the request of his family.

"Our thoughts are with our fellow staff member and we certainly hope he is on the road to recovery," Zoo Director Ron Young said.

Young said it was only the zookeeper's third day working in the lion exhibit. Young said he was being trained by an experienced zookeeper. According to the police report, zookeeper Teresa F. Williams was with Sneed when the incident occurred.

Initially Young said the zookeeper apparently tried to pet the lion, perhaps because the animal had been raised by private individuals before coming to the zoo in June 1997. However, a press release issued Wednesday afternoon stated Sneed had not been attempting to touch the lion.

"According to our employee he had just finished feeding a meat and fish mixture to the animals in the African Rift area," animal curator S. Nigel Platt said in the release. "He believes he was standing very close to the lion and the lion smelled those food items." Platt said the lion caught the zookeeper's right arm with a dewclaw, the fifth toenail, and then pulled his arm through the barrier.

"Obviously, we are happy to hear that our staff member was not directly attempting to pet the animal," Young said. "However, we must reiterate how important it is for all of us, staff and visitors, to keep a safe distance from zoo animals."

Young said the senior zookeeper immediately took appropriate action in response to the situation.

"Appropriate action whenever anyone is being attacked by a carnivore or any other animal, is for the keeping staff to find a way to distract the animal off the employee," Young told reporters shortly after the attack. "That was done with water hoses and CO2 extinguisher."

Young said the lion will be kept in its display. "At this point in time we see no need to do anything special with the lion. The lion was in its space and this person was also in its space," Young said.

Marketing Manager Melanie Wentz said the zoo was closed after the incident and remained closed as police and zoo officials conducted an investigation.

She said zoo employees were also upset. "Many of our zoo workers continued doing their jobs but they were distraught," Wentz said. The park is scheduled to reopen today .

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