When one spends a day at the zoo, they may expect a little excitement, a little curiosity, and an awesome chance to see some of wildlife’s most vibrant, odd, and fascinating creatures. What you don’t expect is to fall into the pit of a lion’s den and have your clothes and body parts ripped to shreds. Although you’re likely among the vast majority that has never had the unfortunate luck of experiencing such a high-stakes standoff against nature’s greatest predators, there are some who have not been so fortunate. Zoo tragedies make crazy news stories because they’re actually so rare. But even some of the most experienced wildlife trainers, biologists, and veterinarians have had some very, VERY bad things happen to them at the zoo.
All bad zoo news stories, unique in their own way, are nature’s way of telling us that these beasts are not to be messed with. Lack of respect for the animal kingdom could cost you your arm or leg. And don’t think that just because there’s a thick layer of glass between you that these stronger-than-you-think mammals can’t find a way to take you out if you make them angry enough. These animal anecdotes below are some of the worst things that have ever happened at zoos and are fair warning for your next visit.
Bengal Tigers Maul A Zoo Cleaner
In 2008 at the Singapore Zoo, Nordin Bin Montong was going about his usual day as a zoo cleaner. Noted by onlookers as moseying his way through the Bengal tiger habitat, Mongdong had been sweeping the moat around the tigers’ home. But when a group of the Bengals lunged at Nordin, visitors could do nothing but scream. According to sources, tourists watching the scene yelled at Mongdong to leap into the water, but it was too late.
When workers finally were able to break Mongdong away from the Bengals, his injuries were far too serious, leaving no hope of saving his life.
Binky The Polar Bear Bites Back
If you want to get up close and personal with Binky, then be prepared to face the consequences. After attacking Kathryn Warburton, an Australian tourist visiting an Alaskan zoo, Binky achieved unprecedented fame. Warburton had jumped a few railings to take a better photograph of the polar bear, but Binky didn’t seem to like the flash. Binky stuck his face through the railings and chomped down on Warburton, breaking her leg.
The polar bear kept the woman’s shoe as a souvenir for three days until zookeepers were able to safely retrieve it. Warburton donated the relic to a local bar, and Binky reached peak stardom. Merchandise and memorabilia featuring the polar bear’s face became popular after the story received heavy media attention.
Harambe Gets Taken Out To Save Toddler
A 4-year-old made national headlines when he accidentally sneaked past his mother and protective fences at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016. Unfortunately, the little boy found himself smack dab in the middle of the gorilla enclosure with a 450-pound silverback gorilla named Harambe. Zoo officials eventually had to shoot the animal with live rounds to protect the child (tranquilizing it could have caused an adverse, violent reaction). Some argued that the gorilla was actually trying to protect the child, although police were worried about his less-than-gentle dragging of the boy across the enclosure.
As for Harambe, the gorilla unexpectedly sparked a rabid fan base, inspiring countless memes, artwork, and various other forms of internet media. Much to the Cincinnati Zoo’s chagrin, Harambe’s martyrdom motivated internet users to hassle the zoo’s social media presence. The Cincinnati Zoo temporarily shut down its Twitter account in an attempt to make #justiceforharambe stop trending.
African Wild Dogs Catch Fallen Toddler
While spending a day at the Pittsburgh Zoo, 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh got too close to the railing’s edge of an African wild dog exhibit. The toddler fell over into the netted area of the enclosure and was immediately attacked by a group of canines. Derkosh’s parents looked on in terror as their son was mauled by the animals.
The African painted dogs were scattered away after zookeepers intervened, but one dog refused to leave Derkosh’s body, forcing security to open fire on the animal. Derkosh’s family came to a settlement with the zoo a few years later, despite the defense team arguing that it was the parent’s neglect that caused the child to fall.
A Rhino Was Shot By Poachers At A French Zoo
A group of poachers broke into a French zoo in March 2017 and shot a 4-year-old white rhinoceros for his horn. The rhino, named Vince, lived at the Thoiry Zoo as part of the African enclosure.
Zoo officials found the rhino’s body the next day with his horn sawed off. Poachers tried to saw off his second horn, but were unsuccessful. Police said this is the first crime of its kind in France. Vince’s subspecies is extremely threatened, and his loss was heartbreaking for zoo officials. The other two rhinos that share the enclosure were not hurt. Authorities suspect the criminals were interrupted and made off before getting the horns of the others.
Mila The Elephant Stomps The Yard
New Zealand zoo vet Helen Schofield was making arrangements for the 7,600-pound elephant Mila to transfer to a new home. When Schofield entered Mila’s sanctuary, the gargantuan pachyderm became frightened after grazing an electric fence bordering the enclosure. Spooked by the currents, Mila grabbed Schofield with her trunk, ultimately crushing her midair, all to the horror of a live audience.
Schofield didn’t survive her sustained injuries. After the traumatizing incident, wildlife experts became concerned about what to do with Mila. It was eventually decided that she would be transferred to the San Diego Zoo, where she would be quarantined and progressively incorporated into the rest of the elephant herd. Jenny Chung, Schofield’s sister, attended Mila’s arrival to confront the animal that took her sister’s life.
Chung expressed that there were no hard feelings, stating that deep down she knew that Mila didn’t intend to hurt Helen.
Emaciated Bears Beg For Food At Indonesian Zoo
Video obtained by PETA Asia from January 2017 shows a pen full of sun bears begging for food. In the video, the bears appear emaciated and skeletal. One report said the bears were so hungry that they resorted to eating their own feces.
This isn’t the first time the Bandung Zoo in West Java, Indonesia, has come under fire. In May 2016, news outlets reported that an elephant named Yani didn’t make it after being chained up at the zoo. Some said they could hear Yani crying. She was covered in bruises and was reportedly paralyzed before her passing.
Egyptian Cobra Escapes From NYC Zoo
When an extremely venomous Egyptian cobra escaped from its exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, the city that never sleeps was left feeling restless. For six days, Bronx zookeepers conducted thorough sweeps of the zoo as they searched for the snake that inexplicably slipped out of the reptilian glass enclosure.
Finally, the cobra was found a mere 100 feet away from the exhibit it left behind. Zookeepers lured the snake out using rodents. The cobra proved an incredible threat to attendees. Thankfully, instead of attacking visitors, the Egyptian cobra started its own Twitter account to keep fans updated on its metro adventures.
Tilikum Thrashes A Seaworld Trainer
Focus of the controversial documentary Blackfish, Tilikum the orca has spent the majority of his life living in a contained bubble. Weighing nearly 12,000 pounds and identifiable by his signature curved dorsal fin, Tilikum is likely Sea World’s most famous “Shamu” in the run’s history. However, Tilikum isn’t known for his fun, showtime playfulness, but rather his unprecedented aggression, formed after having spent over half his lifetime in captivity.
Neither his first outburst nor his first instance of visible hostility, Tilikum reached peak recognition when he took out Dawn Brancheau, considered a very experienced trainer, during a live performance. When Brancheau leaned in to give Tilikum a belly rub, the enormous whale leaped up and grabbed her by the waist. After thrashing her around, Tilikum repeatedly dragged her through the water, drowning her.
Tilikum had previously been involved in multiple attacks against trainers, some fatal, but Sea World officials still kept the dangerous creature around for the delight of the guests.
Man Releases Animals from His Private Zoo
Terry Thompson was known for preserving and collecting rare, exotic animals for his private wildlife refuge, located on his estate. However, right before Thompson took his own life, he made the decision to release his array of jungle beasts onto Zanesville, Ohio. After receiving reports from witnesses who saw the animals unleashed, police were forced to respond. Unfortunately, many of the animals were displaying extreme aggression, and the county feared their proximity to the public. Zanesville police had no choice but to shoot the majority of the escaped animals, which resulted in the event being dubbed the Zanesville Massacre.
Wildlife experts expressed grief at the loss of so many animals that are on the verge of extinction.
Jabari The Gorilla Attacks A Group Of Children
At the Dallas Zoo, Jabari the gorilla was actively being taunted by guests observing the giant primate. While zoo officials failed to explain how the massive gorilla escaped his habitat, witnesses have claimed that he somehow climbed the 16-foot wall to attack onlookers. Jabari went on a rampage throughout the zoo, attacking four people, including one child. At one point, Keisha Heard looked on in horror as Jabari placed her 3-year-old son, Rivers Noah, in his mouth and shook the child violently.
Despite Jabari’s rage, everyone involved in the attack, although injured, made it out alive. However, a SWAT teamed was forced to roll in and take out Jabari. Unable to keep up with Jabari’s great escape, policemen were forced to shoot and take out Jabari after nearly 40 minutes of hot pursuit.
Nyanga The Lion Ends Early Retirement In More Ways Than One
Parys Zoo Farm, a wildlife breeding farm located in Johannesburg, called Joe Ramonetha out of retirement to help care for the lions living there. In a hallway typically inaccessible to the animals, Nyanga the lion, also known as the “witch doctor,” confronted a surprised Ramonetha.
The caretaker was promptly attacked by Nyanga, and quickly succumbed to the bites he sustained. Unsure of how Nyanga managed to enter the passageway, officials decided a gate must have been left unattended. Nyanga’s life was spared: She was shot with a tranquilizer gun, and was eventually relocated to a sanctuary elsewhere.
Drunk Man Gets Mauled By Monkeys
One weekend, Joao Leite Dos Santos decided to day drink at the zoo, causing him to make the rash decision to jump into a monkey pen at a Brazil zoo. Dos Santos waded his way through the monkey moat in an earnest effort to grab a hold of the spider monkeys’ hands held out at the end of the water. When Dos Santos finally reached them, the angry monkeys began biting and scratching. Instantly regretting his decision, Dos Santos rushed back and was helped over the railing’s edge by other visitors.
He blamed the incident on being drunk and wanting to cool off.
Tiger Attacks Two Men
Two men, Prakash Tiwari and Suresh Rai, had drunk themselves into enough of a stupor that they believed a tiger at an Indian zoo named Shiva was the holy god of destruction. When they jumped the fence to the tiger’s abode, Shiva wasn’t too pleased.
The tiger attacked both men, ending Tiwari’s life, all to the gaping faces of those watching above.
Melody The Tapir Gets Maternal
When Lisa Morehead made her morning rounds to feed Melody the tapir, the pig-like creature bit off more than the Oklahoma zookeeper bargained for. After reaching into a 2-foot opening to place food in the enclosure, Melody latched onto Morehead’s arm and pulled her into the cage. Morehead’s arm was severed by the beast and was deemed too “mangled” to reattach.
The reasons for Melody’s sudden and unexpected aggression are not entirely clear, but most officials and animal professionals have chalked it up to maternal instinct. Melody’s 2-month-old baby tapir was also in the cage with her.
Gu Gu The Panda Gets Three Strikes
Gu Gu the panda isn’t known for his friendly smile or his welcoming attitude. Worst of all, rumor has it that Gu Gu has quite a nasty bite, having chomped down on not one, not two, but THREE tourists who all tried jumping into the panda’s play pen. You can’t exactly blame Gu Gu here: These people were essentially asking for it, claiming to be inspired by “curiosity.”
During the third attack, Gu Gu’s jaw had to be pried open with tools because he refused to let go of the leg of a dad who jumped the fence. As you can tell, Gu Gu had had enough already.
Monkeys Play Monkey-In-The-Middle With Man’s iPhone
Like many unfortunate people, Zheng Dong had his iPhone stolen. But unlike many unfortunate people, Dong had his torn from his hands while trying to take some pictures of monkeys at the Fuzhou Zoo. Not too pleased by the theft and ensuing laughter, Dong tried his hardest to get the Apple product back.
When zookeepers finally retrieved the device, the phone had been crushed to pieces.
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