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Zoo, Black Pine stress safety of visitors, animals

January 4, 2019

It’s a zookeeper’s worst nightmare : a radio call stating an animal is loose or that a child has fallen into an exhibit.

Both happened this week.

On Sunday, a 22-year-old intern at a wildlife conservatory in North Carolina was killed by a lion as she helped cleaned out its cage.

On Tuesday, a 2-year-old girl fell through the bars at a rhino exhibit during a hands-on experience at a Florida zoo. Both the girl and her mother were taken to a hospital for treatment.

For Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, events like these cause workers to be more cautious in their daily routine.

“I know yesterday our facilities manager went through every bit of the compound and was double checking locks and latches,” Lori Gagen, executive director of Black Pine, said Thursday. “I think it just prompts everybody to do that, which we do that on a regular basis anyway.”

Gagen said, to her knowledge, Black Pine has never had an incident with its animals, which includes big cats, bears and canines.

The only thing close was when one mother placed her child in the tortoise enclosure.

“If we’re going to be open to the public, we have to have adequate chaperoning available, period,” Gagen said. “We can’t just open up the gates and let people go out here and walk around.”

Black Pine operates with close supervision of its visitors with employees around the enclosures and escorting guests throughout the property.

Just like any accredited zoo, there is a written protocol in case a situation were to arise. The sanctuary is equipped with tranquilization and kill equipment and has designated safe places.

While the sanctuary does have behind-the-scenes tours, children younger than 10 are not allowed to partake.

“It’s certainly because of safety, because children can be unpredictable and can be very quick in their movement,” Gagen said.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo also has an age restriction on behind-the-scenes experiences, limited to children at least 6 years old.

Bonnie Kemp, communications director of the Fort Wayne zoo, said it hasn’t had an incident involving spectators since its opening in 1965 and keepers are always reviewing procedures to make sure they are followed carefully.

“We were just accredited last year, so we know that from the American Zoo Association that our policies are current,” Kemp said.

“We work very hard every day to make sure those are being followed to the letter,” she added.

cstefanski@jg.net

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