A lion being walked through a flea market grabbed an 8-year-old girl and mauled her, then grabbed her head between its jaws, only letting go after it was shot twice, police said.
Roxanne Hernandez was in critical but stable condition Sunday, and authorities were considering whether to file charges against the lion's owner.
The owner was holding the animal's chain but could not control it, said Brian Mason, a witness to the attack Saturday.
A security guard accompanying the lion and its owner shot the animal with a .44-caliber handgun but that did not stop the attack, said police Lt. C. W. Driskell.
"That seemed to aggravate the lion, and it grabbed her by the head," he said. "He then shot the lion again, and they still had trouble getting it to release the little girl."
The lion's 35-year-old owner, Gary Durkovitz, had operated a booth at the Texas Flea Market for about three months, letting shoppers have their picture taken with exotic snakes and the lion, Driskell said.
City health officials and a Houston Zoo veterinarian were called in after the attack and injected the lion with tranquilizers and taped its mouth.
But while being loaded into a truck, the lion slashed the arm of Dr. Karen Kemper, a veterinarian with the city's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care. She was treated at the scene by paramedics.
Kemper said the cat was later killed and its head sent for laboratory tests to see if it had rabies.
Kemper said the 2 1/2-year-old lion weighed about 300 pounds, but should have weighed about 800 pounds. "It had poor nutrition, dermatitis, marks on its teeth from poor nutrition," she said.
Kemper said a city ordinance requires that exotic animals such as tigers, lions and wolves be kept at least 300 feet from the nearest habitation, including the owner's.