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Does lion attack raise safety concerns at New Jersey zoos?

In a story that has attracted considerable national attention, a young lady who had a passion for lions and other big cats died instantly after a lion swiped her with its paw. The young lady had recently graduated with a degree in biology and was spending much of her time volunteering at zoos and other preserves so that she could work with big cats up close.

While previous posts here have often commented on stories relating to animal bites at the hands of neighborhood pets, this story illustrates that an animal attack can occur in the supposedly safer confines of a zoo as well. Routine sightseers, those on special "exclusive access" field trips and volunteers need to be aware that going to a zoo has risks. More importantly, those who operate zoos in and around New Jersey have an obligation to protect those who come in to contact with the zoo's animals.

Even when under experienced care, wild animals are still wild animals. As a result, zoos usually must comply with both federal and state regulations designed to prevent an animal attack. In this case, some have questioned why the young woman was alone cleaning the lion's home. While the lion was in a separate, smaller cage at the time, apparently the door to that cage was partially open. The lion forced the door open and charged the woman.

To be fair, this is reportedly the first time this facility has had an incident arise since it opened over 10 years ago. Previous surprise inspections uncovered no safety violations, and the owner explained that his facility has strict safety standards. The family of this woman has announced no plans to sue.

Nevertheless, the woman's family and friends are likely experiencing a great deal of emotional pain over the loss of a passionate lover of animals. For those in New Jersey who suffer an animal-related injury at a zoo, compensation may be available.

Source: CBS News, "Lion killed woman as she was cleaning enclosure," March 7, 2013

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