Unconscious tiger bites zoo’s veterinarian
BY JOEL FULTON AND CAROL BICAK
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERS
Published Wednesday February 11, 2009
A Henry Doorly Zoo veterinarian was bitten by an unconscious tiger during a routine medical examination this morning.
Dr Doug Armstrong Henry Doorly Zoo veterinarian.Rescuers were dispatched to the zoo about 10:10 a.m. to treat Dr. Douglas Armstrong, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.
Armstrong, 57, was taken to Creighton Medical Center in serious condition, but his injuries were not considered life threatening, authorities said.
The zoo’s director, Dr. Lee Simmons, said Armstrong was bitten on the right forearm — apparently as a reflex.
Zoo workers had been weighing the 20-month-old, 200-pound male Malaysian tiger that had been immobilized and was out of its cage.
After the tiger was weighed, workers were moving it to a sleeping cage when it turned its head, grabbed Armstrong’s arm and chomped. The tiger bit Armstrong three times, Simmons said.
“The bite was pretty severe. But it does not seem to have done any permanent damage,” Simmons said.
“All animal bites are serious because they have a lot of bacteria in their mouth, but (Armstrong) has the use of all his fingers,” Simmons added.
The weighing was part of a routine preshipment examination. The tiger and its brother are being sent to Wichita, Kan., as part of the Omaha zoo’s breeding program, he said. Today’s incident shouldn’t change those plans, Simmons said.
“It was unconscious at the time, under the influence of anesthetic,” Simmons said. Armstrong’s arm “probably touched a whisker, and the tiger reacted. These animals have all kinds of sensitive reflexes.”
The zoo is using a different drug for the anesthetic, Simmons said. It may not hold as long or well, he said.
“Anesthetizing animals is tricky,” Simmons said. “We try to keep animals deep enough to do the procedures, but light enough so they don’t stop breathing.”
Simmons said Armstrong, who has worked at the zoo for 25 years, “is one of the best in the world in handling animals.”
“This is nothing to do with the animal being aggressive,” Simmons said. “It was a fluke accident.”