Jaguar Attacks Woman After She Crosses Barrier to 'Get a Photo,' Says Arizona Zoo
The victim was taken to the hospital in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries
A woman who crossed the barrier of a jaguar enclosure at an Arizona zoo was hospitalized Saturday after the animal attacked her.
The victim, a woman in her 30s, was transported to the hospital from the Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park in stable condition and with non-life threatening injuries, Shawn Gilleland of the Rural Metro Fire Department tells PEOPLE. She suffered lacerations to her arm and hand.
The zoo said the victim was attempting to take a photo when the incident occurred.
“We regret to inform that this evening, before closing there was an incident reported involving a guest, who crossed over the barrier to get a photo, according to eye witnesses,” a statement shared via Twitter reads. “The visitor sustained non-life threatening injuries to their arm from one of our female jaguars. At the request of the family, paramedics were called. At no time was the animal out of its enclosure. The incident is being fully investigated.”
The zoo tweeted out the statement along with the message, “Please understand why barriers are put in place. Sending prayers to the family tonight.”
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Witness Adam Wilkerson told CNN he was visiting the zoo when he heard cries for help and saw the victim’s arm stuck in the jaguar’s claws.
“Without thinking, I had no idea what I was going to see, I just ran over there,” he said. “I saw the other girl up against the fence with her arm caught in the jaguar’s claws. I could see the claws in her actual flesh.”
Wilkerson said his mother ran up behind the animal and stuck her water bottle through the cage, which distracted the jaguar enough for her to loosen her grip and let go of the woman.
The zoo said on Twitter that the jaguar will not be put down in light of the attack.
“She’s a wild animal and there were proper barriers in place to keep our guests safe,” the tweet read. “Not a wild animal’s fault when barriers are crossed.”
Kristy Morcom, a spokeswoman for the zoo, told Arizona Family that while the jaguar was not at fault, she will remain off the exhibit pending an investigation for the sake of her privacy and well-being.
The Humane Society of the United States hopes this incident encourages the Wildlife World Zoo and other zoos to rethink guests experiences that allow close encounters with wild animals.
“When various types of exhibitors promote all sorts of close encounters with wildlife, people get the mistaken idea that wild animals are approachable. Throw in a healthy dose of poor judgement, and incidents like this are bound to happen,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement provided to PEOPLE. “We urge the zoological community exhibitors to set a higher standard to protect people and to respect wildlife from a safe distance by doing away with public contact opportunities with wildlife of all species.”