People in zoos
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:
BROOKFIELD, Illinois– – When
Binti Jua the gorilla cradled a critically injured
three-year-old boy who fell 18 feet into her
exhibit, and carried him gently, her own
infant on her back, to the zookeeper’s door at
the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago on August
16, the contrast between gorillas’ fearsome
appearance and their usual peaceful behavior
inspired commentators around the world.
To zoo professionals, however, the
incident just proved––again––that humans are
the least predictable primates in a zoo. Binti
Jua did what most eight-year-old gorilla mothers
raised in human families might have done:
Binti Jua treated the boy like an injured member
of another gorilla family. The boy who fell
in––who recovered, and was released from the
hospital eight days later––was the wild card.
Other zoo animals responded equally
predictably to unexpected meetings with
humans during the summer. Unfortunately for
the humans, all the other animals were big
The string of incidents began on June
26 when a 22-year-old Charles University student
climbed into the moat surrounding the
Siberian tiger exhibit at the Prague Zoo. The
tiger sprang from his cave, seized the student
by the neck, and quickly killed him. To
tigers, primates mean dinner.
On July 22, American visitor Aaron
Baker and his father made a similar mistake at
Taman Safari Indonesia, a drive-through
wildlife park. Leaving their car, they walked
into the jungle. A Sumatran tiger pounced.
The father fought off the tiger, but young
Baker suffered injuries to his face, hands,
neck, and stomach.
July 27 brought three such encounters.
In Torgau, Germany, a nine-year-old
girl climbed over a barricade to hand a brown
bear a rose. Grabbing her left hand, the bear
tried to pull her into his cage, then bit her arm
off: what the girl meant as a gift, the bear
took as a territorial invasion.
In Cincinnati, Cincinnati Zoo handler
was leading a year-old male Bengal tiger
named Calvin down a hallway at WKRC-TV
when the tiger was startled by Lilly Maynard,
7, daughter of zoo education director Thane
Maynard. Nervous in the unfamiliar locale,
the tiger pounced. The girl suffered facial
injuries, while WKRC writer/producer Fred
Anderson was scratched from armpit to stomach
in attempting to intervene.
Both stories were already on the
wires by mid-day in San Diego, and might
have inspired diagnosed schizophrenic
Matthew Settles, 28, to jump into a San Diego
Zoo exhibit with two Manchurian brown bears.
The female bear ripped his groin, leg, and
back with a swipe of her paw before zookeepers
used firehoses and extinguishers to drive
her back and pull Settles out of a wading pool,
where he sat, insisting the bears had motioned
for him to join them. Once again it was a case
of territorial invasion––and the bear apparently
treated Settles as another bear, not as prey,
probably to his advantage.
On August 8, the Animal World Zoo
in Farmington, Utah, euthanized a cougar for
mandatory rabies testing after a 16-year-old
ticket-taker reached into his cage to pet him
and––having invaded the space he’d occupied
since 1989––was bitten.