Posted: 5/14/2002 8:02:31 AM EDT
Los Angeles Times: Zookeeper Fed Lion Prior to Attack
Zookeeper Fed Lion Prior to Attack
By VICKIE CHACHERE
Associated Press Writer
May 14 2002, 3:06 AM PDT
TAMPA, Fla. -- Busch Gardens of Tampa has suspended private tours and said it
would revise its safety policies after a lion bit off the arm of a zookeeper who
had just fed meat to the animal.
During a private tour with her family, Amanda Bourassa, 21, stuck a finger into
the cage of a 364-pound African lion named Max. The lion grabbed her finger,
clamped down on her arm with his powerful jaws and severed it at the elbow.
Bourassa, along with her severed arm, was rushed to Tampa General Hospital after
Sunday's attack, but surgeons were unable to reattach the arm, hospital
spokesman John Dunn said. She was listed in good condition Monday.
"These are still wild animals, and they behave like that," said Glenn Young, the
theme park's vice president of zoological operations. Young said zookeepers are
forbidden from sticking their hands into animals' cages.
Bourassa had been feeding the animal meat as part of a routine training exercise
minutes before she was bitten, investigators and park officials said.
Bourassa and three other more experienced handlers were performing a routine
training exercise with Max to encourage good behavior during routine health
The lion was called to the cage's bars and ordered to lie down with his tail
extended through the bars, a position needed to safely draw blood from the
animal's tail for health screenings, Young said.
No blood was actually drawn, and Young said the animal wasn't agitated.
During the training exercise, Bourassa rewarded the animal by tossing him bits
of meat through the bars, spaced 1 inches apart, Young said. Max has undergone
such training since he arrived at Busch Gardens in 1997 as part of its "Edge of
With the exercise completed, Bourassa sat down in a chair next to the cage. As
she stood up a few moments later still wearing a latex glove used during the
feeding on her right hand, she looped one finger around a bar, witnesses told
"That was enough to start the initial bite," said Lt. Steve DeLacure, who is
investigating the incident for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
"It could have been avoided if her arm hadn't been there," he said.
-- continued --
While he is not considered a tame animal, Max has been touched by his zookeepers
before and responds to them when they call him by name.
"There is a relationship between the zookeepers and this animal," Young said.
Busch Gardens officials said the 12-year-old lion would not be destroyed, but
said the amusement park's safety policies would be reviewed.
State wildlife investigators found no violations during an inspection of Busch
Gardens on Monday.
The theme park suspended the private tours, and Max was not put on display,
Young said. Otherwise, the park was operating normally.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press