View Full Version : A behind-the-scenes tour at Busch Gardens turns into a nightmare

05-13-2002, 10:36 AM
TAMPA -- A 350-pound lion bit and severed a Busch Gardens zookeeper's right arm as she was taking her family and friends on a behind-the-scenes tour, park officials said.

The 21-year-old zookeeper, whose name is not being released by authorities or the theme park, was touring the lion's night quarters with her parents, her boyfriend and his parents shortly before 2 p.m., when the male lion named Max attacked, said Gerard Hoeppner, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay spokesman. Her arm was severed just below the elbow. She and the arm were taken to Tampa General Hospital by helicopter, where she remained in serious condition Sunday night.

The woman had been a zookeeper in the park's five-acre Edge of Africa exhibit for about a year. It's not clear how close she was to the lion, whether she had tried to feed it or what reason it might have had to attack.

"There's no indication that the lion was being anything other than a lion," Hoeppner said. "We don't consider these tame animals. They're wild animals."

Hoeppner said the woman was touring a private area of the park only accessible to zookeepers and their guests. Besides caring for the lions, the zookeeper also cared for hippopotamuses, hyenas and baboons. Two other zookeepers were present during the attack.

The lion -- one of two in the Edge of Africa display -- was behind a fence or bars in the night quarters, Hoeppner said. The other lion -- a female -- was not in the night quarters during the attack, Hoeppner said. The zookeeper was on the other side of the fence but "in close enough proximity" for the lion to attack, Hoeppner said.

Busch Gardens paramedics and Tampa rescue workers stabilized the woman before she was taken to the hospital.

The Tampa Police said they wouldn't investigate the attack because it's considered a "work site injury." Tampa Police Lt. Dan Lucas said the department does not investigate injuries in the park.

The lion, which came to the park in 1997, will remain in the Edge of Africa display, called the "most intense safari experience outside of Africa" on the Busch Gardens Web site. The park will complete an internal investigation, Hoeppner said.

Kevin Shelton, president of the American Association of Zoo Keepers board of directors, said zookeepers must be always on their guard when working with wild animals, no matter how long they've worked together.

"You always have to respect the animal's capabilities," said Shelton, a curator at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. "Even a seemingly nondangerous animal has a defense and attack mechanism that keeps them alive in the wild."

The Tampa Tribune reported on its Web site that in 1989, a Busch Gardens animal keeper was crushed to death by a 2-ton elephant. In 1993, a zookeeper survived a rattlesnake bite.


05-13-2002, 11:41 AM
Can,t blame the lion,
can only think she got careless while her family were around:(

05-13-2002, 11:44 AM
Hi flakey, i noticed it was your first post welcome to the boards ask as many questions as you like we're all pretty friendly round here.


05-13-2002, 11:49 AM
hi there, jjcollins,
thanks for the welcome, great forum full of great bits of info and tips, making my planning to WDW much easier.
by the way you gonna be watching WDW on BBC1 tonite?

05-13-2002, 11:54 AM
Hi just call me jj..

yes hopefully i'll get to see it tonight, so when you next trip too WDW if i'm not to nosey


05-13-2002, 12:00 PM
going on june18 for 2 weeks, gonna be staying in westridge off the 27 :)
when are you planning to go?

05-13-2002, 12:16 PM
My wife and i are not long back from Disney we're members of the Disney vacation club --like a Timeshare thing-

We posted a couple of trip reports--3--if your interested. just booked a cruise for Nov in the Caribbean can't wait. As i say if there are QS just fire away--Tickets--food--Car hire--shopping- someone will know the answer.