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Special report filed by AAF Correspondent: The Wizard


Surgeons cannot reattach Florida zookeeper's arm after lion tears it off
VICKIE CHACHERE, Associated Press Writer
Monday, May 13, 2002
©2002 Associated Press

(05-13) 15:38 PDT TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A zookeeper whose arm was bitten off by a lion at Busch Gardens had been feeding meat to the animal as part of a training exercise minutes before the attack, park officials said Monday.

Surgeons were unable to reattach 21-year-old Amanda Bourassa's arm following Sunday's attack, which occurred as she took her parents and boyfriend on a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal's sleeping quarters.

State wildlife investigators said witnesses indicated Bourassa may have poked part of her hand or a finger through a 11/2-inch opening between the bars when the 364-pound lion grabbed her.

Her right arm was severed near the elbow.

The attack occurred outside the view of tourists as Bourassa was giving a private tour available only to zookeepers' family members. The theme park suspended such tours Monday, said Glenn Young, the park's vice president of zoological operations.

Busch Gardens officials said the 12-year-old lion named Max would not be destroyed, but said the amusement park's safety policies would be reviewed.

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said an initial probe found no violations in how the lion was being caged.

Young said minutes before the attack, Bourassa and three other zookeepers were performing a routine training exercise with the lion to encourage good behavior during the animal's health checkups.

The lion was ordered to lie down with his tail extended through the bars, a position needed to draw blood from the animal's tail, Young said. No blood was drawn during the training and Young said the animal wasn't agitated.

Bourassa rewarded the animal by tossing him bits of meat, Young said. Max has undergone such training since he arrived at Busch Gardens in 1997 as part of it's "Edge of Africa" exhibit. The park also has a lioness. The lions were not on display Monday.

Young said the attack occurred within minutes of the feeding.

"These are still wild animals, and they behave like that," Young said, noting that zookeepers are forbidden from sticking their hands into animals' cages.

The zookeeper, along with her severed arm, was rushed to Tampa General Hospital. Surgeons couldn't reattach the arm, hospital spokesman John Dunn said.

While by no means considered a tame animal, Max has been touched by his zookeepers before and responds to them when they call him by name.

Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and whose TV show, "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," often originates from Busch Gardens in Tampa, said the zoo has one of the best safety records in the industry.

"For the numbers of visitors and the numbers of animals they have, I would say their record is in the top two or three of all the zoological parks in the U.S., probably the world," Hanna said.

In 1989, an animal keeper was crushed to death by a 2-ton elephant. In 1993, a rattlesnake bit a zookeeper, who survived. And in 1999, a woman claimed a Clydesdale horse bit off the tip of her finger.

"The first thing I tell people is a wild animal is like a loaded gun. It can go off at any time," Hanna said. "This is the kind of business we are in."

©2002 Associated Press

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