On March 6, a lion in a cat sanctuary attacked and killed an intern-a reminder that big cats in captivity are extremely dangerous to their keepers and to the general public as well. If people are allowed to come into contact with the animals, says Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescues, the owners may assure the public everything is "perfectly safe. But as we see time and time again, it's not true and people end up being mauled and killed." Here are four attacks that made headlines.
In 2005, a 17-year-old teen named Haley Hilderbrand was killed in Topeka, Kansas, when she posed with a Siberian tiger for her senior portrait. Haley Hilderbrand, like students who have graduated before her, went to the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary-a family-run animal sanctuary-to take a picture with a seven-year-old tiger. Despite being restrained by its handler, the tiger turned and attacked Hilderbrand, who later died of her wounds. According to an article from The Wichita Eagle, her mother recounted the story to lawmakers after the incident, saying, "He attacked Haley exactly like a tiger attacks its prey, killing her instantly."
In 2005, Russell Lala and his father were visiting the 11 exotic cats and bear kept by body shop owner Chuck Mock. The ten-year-old boy opened the door to a cage full of lions and tigers. One tiger lunged at the boy, and while the two adults attempted to pull the tiger off, a lion bit Lala and dragged him into another part of the cage. He sustained injuries to his face, brain, and spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.
Las Vegas, Nevada
In 2003 during a show at the MGM Mirage, a seven-year-old white tiger attacked Roy Horn-part of the entertainment duo Siegfried and Roy-who had performed with tigers for years. The tiger reportedly lunged at Horn's neck and dragged him off the stage as if he was nothing more than a ragdoll in the cat's mouth. Emergency officials treated him for massive blood loss before rushing him to the University Medical Center for emergency surgery. He survived but suffered serious injuries, performed with tigers again, and subsequently retired from show business.
Bronx, New York
David Villalobos, 25 years old, made headlines in September 2012 when, in an attempted suicide, he jumped 17 feet from a monorail ride at Bronx Zoo into the den of an 11-year old Amur tiger. Emergency responders were able to separate the tiger from its victim, who was transported to the Jacobi Medical Center with a punctured lung and mauled leg, according to The New York Daily News. In January 2013, he pleaded not guilty to trespassing charges.
For further information and to learn more about big cats and other wild animals in captivity, read: