Lion Kills Intern in North Carolina
Some are asking how this could have happened and what Big Cat Rescue does to prevent such tragedies. It is heartbreaking that both this young woman and the lion have lost their lives. It always makes me sick to know collateral pain suffered by everyone involved.
Let me start by saying that most deaths by captive big cats will be prevented when the Big Cat Public Safety Act passes because it will put an end to private possession. The facility where this occurred was just a road side zoo, and thus private possession. I don’t think it would be exempt from the new law unless it changed its policies to be a sanctuary that did not buy, breed, sell, allow contact or exploit the animals.
No one has ever been killed by a cat at Big Cat Rescue. The reason Big Cat Rescue has so many rules is because we learned the hard way. In 1998 a keeper tried to hug a leopard through the wall of his cage (which was already against the rules) and had to have stitches. Also that year another volunteer was playing with a cougar, which resulted in stitches. The most recent incident was in 2001 when a keeper was petting a cougar and had a minor bite to the hand.
Each of those incidents caused us to re-evaluate and change our safety protocols and before long we decided that NO ONE was to have physical contact with any of the cats. The way we clean cages has always been different from most other places because our cages are so large and natural that we can clean from the outside without having to go inside the cage very often. Our keepers also have to work with small cats for two years before graduating to care for lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. The intern killed at the NC facility had only been there 10 days.
There are only two ways a person gets killed by a captive big cat. Either the person does something wrong or the containment fails because a person did something wrong. (Acts of God are another story, but I can’t think of a case where anyone has been killed in the U.S. by a cat being released by a tornado, hurricane, flood, earthquake or fire. All of those are very likely scenarios though, and just one more reason why we shouldn’t have big cats in cages.)
If a latch fails, or a door can be knocked open, it’s because someone didn’t build it strong enough, or provide maintenance enough, to ensure the safety of those who depended on it to work. This is why every day our keepers report on our maintenance logs anything that needs attention. That report goes to the maintenance crew automatically, and immediately via email, so that we keep our cages in good repair.
I don’t know what happened in North Carolina but what I do know is that we can stop it from happening again by ending the practice of keeping wild cats in cages. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is THE most important first step to that goal. Ask your member of congress to support the BigCatAct.com