Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2016 (1240 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A lot of things can happen when you put human beings and wild animals together in the same spot at the same time — and most of them aren’t very pretty to watch.
Still, every year, a handful of confused zoo visitors, for reasons known only to themselves, climb into enclosures where they come face to face with lions, tigers, bears and other captive critters with pointy teeth.
Last weekend, for example, one of two men who broke into a zoo in Minot, N.D., had his hand bitten by a brown bear after sticking his arm through the bars of the animal’s enclosure.
Police said the two men were (Surprise!) under the influence of alcohol at the time and are facing felony trespassing charges.
"I think people sometimes think that just because they are in captivity, they are somehow not a wild animal, but they are wild animals," zoo director Becky Dewitz said.
In Santiago, Chile, two lions had to be shot dead last Saturday after they mauled a man who stripped naked and entered their enclosure in an apparent suicide attempt. At last report, the man was in grave condition in hospital.
In Hyderabad, India, meanwhile, a 35-year-old "drunken man" jumped into a lion enclosure at Nehru Zoological Park Monday, reportedly to "shake hands with a lion," but was rescued unhurt by the animal’s alert keeper.
You’d like to think such stupidity was rare, but, tragically, these encounters are becoming increasingly common. Here’s a look at a handful of infamous zoo attacks that have sparked headlines around the world:
5) The animal attacker — A Komodo dragon
The grisly encounter — It no doubt seemed like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. It was June 2001 and Hollywood actress Sharon Stone, famed for her role in the erotic thriller Basic Instinct, had arranged a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Los Angeles Zoo as a gift for her then-husband, Phil Bronstein, then-editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. It seems the famed journalist had always dreamed of getting an up-close look at a venomous Komodo dragon, a rare Indonesian lizard with serrated teeth designed for ripping flesh. Bronstein was shoeless at the time of the attack because the dragon was fed white rats and the zookeeper suggested he remove his white tennis sneakers so the dragon didn’t mistake them for his next meal. As you have already deduced, the two-metre-long dragon clamped down on Bronstein’s foot and began thrashing around. According to Stone, her hubby bravely bested the creature, grabbing its jaws and prying them open before struggling to escape through the small feeding door of the cage while the keeper fended the lizard off. The zoo has offered a slightly different version. "Komo, without warning, bit Phil on his left foot and held on," reptile keeper Jay Kilgore said in a written account of the attack. "I grabbed Komo by his neck and yelled at him. He let go after an estimated one or two seconds. I pulled Komo away from Phil and yelled at Phil to get out of the exhibit. After a delay of perhaps 10 to 15 seconds, Phil stepped out of the exhibit. I had been repeatedly yelling at Phil to get out." Stone’s hubby later underwent emergency surgery to reattach severed tendons and rebuild the casing of his big toe, which was crushed by the dragon’s jaws. He did not press charges against the zoo or the dragon.
4) The animal attacker — Vitali the Siberian tiger
The grisly encounter — You will not be surprised to hear alcohol was involved in this incident. It was in the early morning of Oct. 5, 2009, when two 27-year-old friends — Trever James Wearmouth and Thomas Anthony Bryce-Hart — decided to scale the Calgary Zoo’s 21/2-metre fence to pay a surprise visit on a female friend who worked for zoo security. "So over we went, into the zoo in the night," Bryce-Hart wrote in a university essay that was published by the Calgary Sun in 2013. "We knew a girl that worked security — though she had no idea we were coming — and we thought we might creep up on one of her rounds, bait her a bit, then split. No harm intended." Famous last words. Bryce-Hart’s roommate scaled the outer perimeter safety fence around the tiger enclosure, then approached the inside fence where a two-year-old male Siberian tiger named Vitali was roaming. "In the space between safety and stupidity, watching dumb, the tiger and I see my roommate reach towards the fence," the essay continued. "Vitali puts his nose to the fence and licks my roommate’s hand through it, just like a house cat. For a second, my roommate is scratching Vitali’s nose and Vitali turns his head, just like a house cat. Just like a house cat, Vitali takes my roommate’s hand in mouth and gives it a playful tug. Just like a house cat no longer." After the tiger pulled his friend’s arm into the cage, Bryce-Hart frantically jabbed Vitali’s eye, pulled his nose and ears, then yanked on the big cat’s whiskers to free his mauled friend, who was later treated for significant arm injuries. Bryce-Hart sustained minor injuries. The pair did not face criminal charges. Here’s the genius conclusion of the essay: "Stay away from tigers."
3) The animal attacker — A camel
The grisly encounter — This tragedy made our list because (a) it’s local; and (b) it shows the danger faced by even trained zoo professionals. The deadly attack occurred in January 1988, and this columnist, a cub reporter at the time, remembers when the grim story swept the newsroom. A zookeeper named Hubert Brick, 53, a man with 15 years of experience as a keeper, was bitten and trampled to death by at least one camel in an incident that puzzled both police and zoo officials. Brick’s body was spotted in the middle of the camel compound and he was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Reports at the time said zoo workers last saw Brick feeding a male and two female camels about 15 minutes before the afternoon attack apparently occurred. "It’s so bizarre," then-zoo director Clive Roots was quoted as saying at the time. "A camel must have grabbed him when he had his back turned." Roots said Curly, a female camel known to bite, might have been trying to play with Brick when the male camel got jealous. "They’re rutting right now, and he could have become jealous." The idea of killer camels isn’t far-fetched. In January 2015, a camel trampled two people to death at Camel Kisses Farm in Wichita Falls, Texas. According to CNN, the incident occurred after Mark Mere, 53, entered a pen with three camels — one male and two females — because the animals’ water trough had frozen over. The male camel was in rut and became very aggressive, Wichita County Sheriff David Duke said. It charged Mere, who fled, and farm owner Peggye McNair, 72, tried to close the gate to the pen, but the camel came after both of them and trampled them to death. In an earlier 2009 interview, McNair ironically said "camels have gotten a bad rap." If they are raised with love, affection and attention, they’ll be tame and enjoyable, she told the Wichita Falls Times Record News. "Of course, there are some caveats," she noted.
2) The animal attacker — Gu Gu the giant panda
The grisly encounter(s) — You would think zoo visitors would learn not to jump into the panda pen, but apparently not. Gu Gu, a male giant panda at the Beijing Zoo, has made international headlines — not once, not twice, but three times — for chomping on unwanted intruders. In the first incident, on Sept. 19, 2006, a migrant worker named Zhang Xinyan, who had consumed several beers before going to the zoo, jumped into the enclosure. Why? He wanted to hug a giant panda. When Zhang went in for a cuddle, Gu Gu bit him on both legs. Zhang later said he "bit the panda on its back, but its fur was too thick." Zhang was hospitalized, but Gu Gu was fine. Next, on Oct. 23, 2007, 15-year-old Li Xitao jumped into the enclosure out of sheer curiosity, and startled the 240-pound panda at feeding time. Gu Gu responded by ripping chunks out of the teen’s legs, wounds so serious his bones were reportedly exposed. On Jan. 7, 2009, Gu Gu gnawed on his third unwitting victim — 28-year-old Zhang Jiao, who told CNN he fell into the panda pen while trying to catch a small toy panda thrown by his young son. The panda sunk his teeth into Zhang’s left leg before moving on to the right. Zookeepers needed to use tools to pry open Gu Gu’s jaws. "The panda is a national treasure, and I love and respect (him) so I didn’t fight back," Zhang told CNN. "I always thought they were cute and just ate bamboo." Dr. Wang Tianbing treated Zhang for severe wounds. "Normally, we think the panda is a very tender animal, but actually it’s a bear, not a cat," the doctor said. "If the animal thinks it will be hurt by human beings, it is very dangerous."
1) The animal attacker — Binky the polar bear
The grisly encounter(s) — Forget Sarah Palin, because Alaska’s most beloved predator was Binky the bear, who became globally famous for putting the bite on human beings with low IQs who dropped by the Anchorage Zoo. In July 1994, Australian tourist Kathryn Warburton bit off more than she could chew when she scaled two safety fences to get a close-up photo of the 1,200-pound bear — who had a reputation for being cranky — which is when Binky stuck his head through the bars and grabbed her. Warburton’s leg was broken and she suffered lacerations in the attack, which was famously caught on tape by another tourist. Binky’s fame shot sky high when he kept a souvenir of the attack — Warburton’s shoe — for three days before it was taken away by zoo staff. "It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done," she later told the Anchorage Daily News. Six weeks later, drunken local teenagers visited the enclosure hoping to swim in its pool, and one 19-year-old youth was hospitalized with leg lacerations after being mauled. As you can imagine, the public was outraged. We are, of course, kidding. The truth is, Binky became a local celebrity, with his face adorning merchandise such as T-shirts, coffee mugs and bumper stickers, often with the shoe photo or the slogan, "Send another tourist, this one got away." Binky died in 1995, but not before famed humour columnist Dave Barry visited and wrote: "If there is one fundamental unifying principle of human psychology, it is that everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic origin, hates tourists. So when Binky chewed on one, he instantly became a major celebrity, like Kato Kaelin, but with a higher IQ."
There are hundreds more gruesome stories we could have shared, but we know all you zoo visitors get today’s point — don’t feed the animals! Unless, of course, your childhood dream was to become the human entrée on a wildlife buffet. In which case, don’t forget to ring the dinner bell.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.