Jaguar had violent brother
By Chase Squires
The Associated Press
Article Last Updated:02/26/2007 01:49:44 PM MST
A Bolivian-born jaguar named Jorge that killed a Denver zookeeper was well-behaved as a young cat, but he had a twin brother who was so mean that his handlers named him Osama, a Bolivian zoo official said today.
Ashlee Pfaff, 27, died from a broken neck and other injuries after Jorge attacked her when she opened a door to his enclosure on Saturday, the coroner said. A zoo employee shot and killed Jorge when he approached emergency workers trying to save Pfaff.
Jorge—Spanish for George—had been named after President Bush, said Dr. Margot Ugarteche, a veterinarian at the Santa Cruz Municipal Zoo of South American Fauna in Bolivia, which sent Jorge to the Denver Zoo.
“Osama was always the more dominant of the two,” Ugarteche said. “He was always rough with George. That was the relationship we saw between them.”
“Jorge wasn’t bad, really,” she said. “I don’t know what could have happened. Perhaps because he was so well-behaved, the trainer (in Denver) thought she could trust him. But you never know with wild animals. Anything can happen at any moment.”
Denver Zoo officials said the jaguar attacked Pfaff when she opened a door from a service area into his enclosure while the cat was still in the enclosure. They said they did not know why, because zoo policy forbids keepers and big cats from being in an enclosure together.
The jaguar had no history of unusual behavior in Denver, Denver Zoo spokeswoman Ana Bowie said.
The zoo and Denver police have launched investigations. The U.S. Agriculture Department, which inspects zoos at least annually, also planned to investigate, spokesman Darby Holladay said.
The Denver Zoo has said Jorge was about 6 years old, but Ugarteche said the brothers were born in 1996. Tiffany Barnhart, a spokeswoman for the Denver Zoo, said officials there had only estimated Jorge’s age because his birthdate had not been documented.
Jorge and Osama were captured by a family in the countryside of the tropical lowland state of Santa Cruz, in eastern Boliva, and were keeping them as pets until a local conservation group brought them to the zoo when they were 6 months old, Ugarteche said.
The pair did not have names until two or thee years ago, she said.
“We named him Jorge, like President George, the president of the United States, and the other one Osama, because he was the bad one of the two,” she said.
The Denver Zoo obtained Jorge in March 2005. Ugarteche said the Santa Cruz zoo received various supplies in exchange, including computers and lab equipment.
“Jorge wasn’t very big, but he’s the one that qualified (to be shipped to Denver), because his attitude made him seem the better animal” for the trip, Ugarteche said.
She said Osama remains at the Santa Cruz zoo. She said news of Pfaff’s death had saddened the staff there.
Pfaff, who had worked at the Denver Zoo for about a year, had undergone regular safety training for the jaguar exhibit, shadowed veteran keepers and attended mandatory safety meetings, officials said.
“She was an experienced animal keeper,” Bowie said. “This wasn’t like it was her first job working with cats.”
A family member said Pfaff’s parents were traveling to Denver from their home in New Mexico.