Zoo, police investigate jaguar’s fatal attack on keeper
DENVER ” A zookeeper fatally attacked by a 140-pound jaguar at the Denver Zoo had experience working with big cats, and the animal had no history of abnormal behavior, a zoo spokeswoman said Sunday.
The zookeeper was attacked Saturday morning when she opened the door to the jaguar’s indoor enclosure, zoo spokeswoman Ana Bowie said. Another zoo worker fatally shot the cat when it approached emergency workers trying to save the woman, Bowie said.
The zookeeper, whose name was not immediately released, died at a hospital about 90 minutes after the attack, zoo officials said. An autopsy was planned and results were expected to be released later Sunday, coroner’s investigator Raylene Smith said.
“She was an experienced animal keeper,” Bowie said. This wasn’t like it was her first job working with cats. She was experienced.”
The zookeeper had undergone regular safety training for the exhibit, shadowed veteran keepers and attended mandatory safety meetings, officials said.
Bowie said the jaguar, named Jorge, “had not exhibited any kind of unusually behavior that would lead us to predict something like this.”
Zoo officials said Jorge was about 6 years old had come to the zoo in March 2005 from the Santa Cruz Zoo in Bolivia.
The zoo added a 16-month-old female jaguar named Caipora in December, and she was to be paired with Jorge when she was old enough, according to the zoo website.
Bowie said a necropsy ” the animal equivalent of an autopsy ” was planned at the zoo’s veterinary hospital, but she did not know when it would be done.
Bowie said the jaguar attacked the zookeeper when she opened a door leading from service area into Jorge’s enclosure. Zoo officials said they will look into how encounter occurred because policy does not allow staff to be in any large cat exhibit when the animal is there.
Bowie said a visitor saw the attack from outside the glassed-in enclosure, and his shouts alerted other keepers. Zoo officials said the attack occurred in a secure area and the public was never endangered.
Bowie declined to disclose any details of the attack, but she disputed accounts describing the incident as a mauling, saying that term implied repetitive attacks.
“It’s not the case,” she said. She declined to elaborate.
Bowie said a small number of zoo employees undergo frequent training in the use of firearms for such emergencies. She said the zoo has several kinds of firearms to handle different situations but she did not know what type was used to kill the jaguar.
The zoo reopened Sunday after closing early on Saturday, but its two feline exhibits remained closed while police investigated. A police spokesman did not immediately return a call.
Bowie said zoo staffers were devastated by the incident and police called in victims’ advocates to help them deal with the shock and sadness.
“These keepers are incredible professionals. They care for these animals and they have to be cared for through their grief, she said.
Zoo President and CEO Clayton Freiheit issued a a written statement saying zoo officials were “deeply saddened” by the incident. “This keeper was a part of our family and we too are grieving the loss of one of our own.”
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