For a better look at the jaguars at the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in Arizona, a woman named Leanne crossed over the three-foot-tall barricade that separates zoo visitors from the fenced exhibit.
This was, of course, a terrible idea. One female jaguar reached through the fence and took a swipe at Leanne, clawing her arm. Another zoo visitor got the jaguar to let go of Leanne’s arm by distracting it with a water bottle.
Leanne, who didn’t want to reveal her last name, was treated at a hospital and released. She told CBS News, “I never expected this.” (Really?!). “I feel like we’re all human, we make mistakes and I learned my lesson,” she said.
Contrary to previous news reports, she insisted she wasn’t taking a selfie and had not climbed over the barrier but merely leaned over it.
Fortunately, the jaguar, who did what any wild animal would do—especially one already stressed out from being in captivity—will not be euthanized.
— Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park (@ZooWildlife) March 11, 2019
Please assure us nothing is happening to the animal due to this stupid human’s actions.
— Jessie Geroux (@j2tyco) March 10, 2019
Although Leanne apologized to the zoo and admitted she was in the wrong by crossing the barrier, she told CBS News the zoo should “look into moving their fence back. Anybody can reach out. I’m not the first, and if they don’t move the fence, I’m probably not going to be the last.”
She’s right about not being the first. Last summer, another potential Darwin Awards winner climbed over the same barricade to record a video. The same jaguar scratched him.
“Just one swipe with a paw can do a lot of damage,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told CBS News. “It’s also really hard on the animal. It’s really stressful.”
“I was in the wrong for leaning over the barrier,” the woman clawed by a jaguar in Arizona this past weekend acknowledged to CBS News in an exclusive interview, while also stating that the Wildlife World Zoo should “look into moving their fence back.”@errolbarnett reports pic.twitter.com/KMKArWlVh0
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) March 11, 2019
Why do people put themselves and these animals at risk?
It could be because animals have become “less real” to us, according to Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at Ohio’s College of Wooster. People who get too close to wild animals have stopped associating them with danger, she told National Geographic. In managed settings, like zoos, they become harmless props to some people.
Social media has led some people to go to extremes to show the world more exciting versions of themselves, Erin Vogel, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at UC San Francisco, told National Geographic. She said it’s just not enough for those people to take a photo of animals from a safe distance; instead, they want to appear as if they’re part of the experience.
Zoos are part of the problem, Clayton pointed out, because they can “encourage the perspective that [animals] are there for us,” she told National Geographic. Due to that perspective,visitors don’t respect the animals as sentient beings.
The president of the HSUS echoed that in a statement about the jaguar incident. “When various types of exhibitors promote all sorts of close encounters with wildlife, people get the mistaken idea that wild animals are approachable,” Block said. “Throw in a healthy dose of poor judgement, and incidents like this are bound to happen.”
It’s very fortunate that Leanne and the jaguar both survived what could easily have been an entirely unnecessary tragedy. It’s unfortunate that other zoo animals have not been nearly so lucky.
One Care2 member has started a petition asking the World Wildlife Zoo to send the jaguar to a sanctuary so she can live in peace. “It’s clear that Sarah is not coping with her captive situation at Wildlife World Zoo. She needs to be relocated to a true sanctuary where she can live the rest of her life without any expectations placed upon her.” If you agree, please sign and share her petition.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 14 Mar 2019.