Surgeons were unable to reattach a zookeeper’s arm after it was torn off by a 350-pound lion as the woman took her parents and boyfriend on a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal’s sleeping quarters at Busch Gardens.
State wildlife officials, meanwhile, began an investigation into what led to Sunday’s attack.
The 21-year-old zookeeper, whose name was not released, was in serious condition Monday, Busch Gardens officials said.
The officials said the 12-year-old lion would not be destroyed. But they announced a review of the amusement park’s safety policies.
The zookeeper, who had worked at the park for about a year, was taking her parents, her boyfriend and his parents on a tour when the lion severed her right arm near the elbow. No tourists saw the attack. It was not known how the lion reached the woman’s arm, Busch Gardens officials said.
The arm was rushed to Tampa General Hospital with the zookeeper, but surgeons could not reattach it, hospital spokesman John Dunn said.
The lion, named Max, has been at Busch since 1997. The park also has a lioness. The lions were not put on display Monday. They are part of Busch Gardens’ “Edge of Africa” exhibit and are rotated on display with hyenas.
“These are still wild animals, and they behave like that,” said Glenn Young, Busch vice president of zoological operations. “This appears to be a freak accident at this point.”
Metal bars and a fence that would not allow someone to put an arm into the lion’s cage separated the visitors from Max, but it would be possible to stick one’s fingers in, Young said.
While by no means considered a tame animal, Max has been touched by his zookeepers before and responds to them when they call him by name.
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and whose TV show, “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures,” often originates from Busch Gardens, said the zoo has one of the best safety records in the industry.
“For the numbers of visitors and the numbers of animals they have, I would say their record is in the top two or three of all the zoological parks in the U.S., probably the world,” Hanna said.
In 1989, an animal keeper was crushed to death by a 2-ton elephant. In 1993, a rattlesnake bit a zookeeper, who survived. And in 1999, a woman claimed a Clydesdale horse bit off the tip of her finger.
“The first thing I tell people is a wild animal is like a loaded gun. It can go off at any time,” Hanna said.