Big Cat Attacks: What They Show

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Since March, there have been 3 attacks on people by captive Big Cats in the United States. The first happened on March 9th in Arizona. A visitor at the Wildlife World Zoo was trying to take a picture of a Jaguar by reaching over a barrier. The Jaguar reached through the cage and grabbed the woman, digging its claws deep into her arm. Here is a description of the event found at

“Adam Wilkerson said he was at the zoo with his family when someone came running around the corner yelling for help.  “I saw the other girl up against the fence with her arm caught in the jaguar’s claws.”  Wilkerson said he was standing behind the woman, but didn’t want to pull her off. “I could see the claws in her actual flesh,” he said.  “When my mom put the water bottle through the gate, the jaguar let go of the girl. And we pulled the girl back and she collapsed,” he said.  There were no employees nearby during the incident, Wilkerson said.”

The Jaguar was not euthanized but was removed from public display, most likely to live in a small concrete floored holding enclosure. You can read an in-depth article about the attack, which includes a statement by clicking here.

Then, on April 20th, a Tiger mauled a keeper nearly to death at the Topeka Zoo in Kansas. Keeper Kristyn Hayden-Ortega was mauled by a male Tiger named Sanjiv. Due to human error, she and the Tiger ended up in the same space. That is when the attack occurred. The zoo is refusing to go into any further detail of the incident, which was witnessed by several visitors to the zoo. She is, however, being described as one of the most experienced keepers at the zoo, raising questions as to how this horrible attack happened. While the zoo won’t say anything, the police report from the incident says “A Topeka Zoo employee was cleaning the tiger cage area when other zoo staff said a door where a male adult tiger should have been secured was not. Therefore the tiger was able to access the area where (Hayden-Ortega) was cleaning. The tiger attacked and eventually stopped attacking on the tiger’s own accord.” Zoo officials have said that the Tiger will not be euthanized because he was doing what a Tiger does.

Two days later, on April 22nd, the founder of a sanctuary was attacked by one of his rescued Tigers. Jonathan Kraft, founder and executive director of true sanctuary Keepers of the Wild in Arizona, was trying to shift Tiger Bowie into a safer section as bad storms approached the area. He was worried about the safety of a few large cats in his area and was taking action to ensure no harm came to them. But rather than follow proper safety procedures, he was doing it on his own. Bowie, who was acting weird, managed to break through a door before Jonathan could secure it. Bowie attacked. He is declawed, but his teeth are still very strong. Nearby keepers rushed over to remove him from the Tiger’s grip. Jonathan was taken away by medical personnel and is recovering well. An investigation is currently being done to ensure this never happens again. Read an in-depth account of the accident in the post from the Keeper’s of the Wild Facebook page embedded below. The sanctuary was closed to the public at the time in preparation for the storm.

So what do these attacks show? Well, they show that BIG CATS DO NOT BELONG IN CAGES! I post a lot about how they shouldn’t be in zoos, backyards, basements, etc. but never before have I said anything about sanctuaries. Don’t get me wrong, true sanctuaries do wonders for the animals in their care. I have seen Cats at Big Cat Rescue go from skinny and on the brink of death to thriving, healthy sentient beings. But the accident at Keepers of the Wild shows that accidents can happen anywhere, even at the good places. Now, at the good sanctuaries bad things only happen when safety protocols aren’t followed. But elsewhere, it isn’t down to something that simple always. While the attack at the Topeka Zoo was due to human error, like the attack at KOTW, the attack at Wildlife World (which has a history of being a very bad facility) was due to lack of proper safety for the public and the actions of the public around animals when not closely supervised like they are on the guided education tours used at sanctuaries (yes, like Big Cat Rescue).

Big Cats should not be kept in cages. Nowhere. Not even at sanctuaries. That is why we need to get the Big Cat Public Safety Act passed! If we don’t, who knows how many more attacks could happen. The 3 people attacked I discussed here were lucky. They weren’t killed. If Big Cats continue to be bred for life in cages, who knows how many more people will be attacked. And the next person may not be lucky. Their attack could be fatal.

Please go to now and make the Call of the Wild. Ask your representative to cosponsor the Big Cat Public Safety Act. And go to to find other actions you can take the help Big Cats.

My heart goes out, not only to the Big Cats languishing in cages all across the country, but also to those who have been attacked as the U.S. Government drags its feet on the issue. It is because of them that we must not stop fighting to end the abuse of Big Cats.

For the Cats,

International Animal Welfare


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