Zoo owner shares more details on jaguar attack
nEmployee released from hospital last week
No employee at Thurmont's Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo has ever been through an attack quite like the one that happened Jan. 18 to Deborah Gregory, 32, of Severn, according to the zoo's director and owner.
Richard Hahn said in a Jan. 29 e-mail to The Gazette that the attack, in which a jaguar weighing more than 180 pounds mauled Gregory, a zookeeper, was "the only serious big cat accident in the zoo to an employee ever."
"There have been a few, much less serious encounters between animal and caretaker in the 45 years that I have been here," Hahn wrote.
A Frederick County animal control officer on Feb. 17 will evaluate Diego, the zoo's 10-year-old male jaguar, and Evita, a 12-year-old female jaguar in the holding area at the time of the attack, for any changes in the animals' health or temperament. If the animals are cleared, they will be returned to their normal area at the zoo. If not, their fates will be decided by a county health official.
The jaguars are currently on a 30-day quarantine.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo hired Gregory about a month before the attack. According to the zoo, Gregory did not completely secure the jaguar area she was working in at about 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 when Diego attacked and bit her.
She was taken to R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after other employees got the jaguar off of her by blasting it with a fire extinguisher. Gregory is one of three employees at the zoo cleared to work closely with its big carnivores.
"Deb was a new hire but came to us with some experience in the big cat area at National Zoo," Hahn wrote. "She was trained in our procedures and cleared to work that routine here."
According to the zoo and Harold Domer, director of Frederick County Animal Control, Gregory violated procedure when she failed to seal off the jaguars from the area where she was working.
"She was inside the nighttime dens at the time of the incident," Hahn wrote. "Procedure dictates [that] the animal care person only enter the den to clean and perform maintenance, and only after securing the door that leads from the den to the outside exhibit area — where the cats are when not in the nighttime dens."
Domer said this week that his department's investigation will include an interview with Gregory.
"It's my understanding she was released [Jan. 29]," Domer said. "As of today we have not spoken to the victim."
Gregory was hospitalized, initially in critical condition, from Jan. 18 to Jan. 29.
Diego and Evita have both been at the zoo since they were cubs, and were born in captivity. Normally they eat about seven pounds of meat daily during the winter.
The zoo values their lives, but not so much that zoo officials would not put them down to save a human life.
"We are here for the animals. We would not kill an animal if there was any other way to break off the attack," Hahn wrote. "We also would not hesitate to do so if a human life was in peril. As much as we love our animals, you just cannot equate the two."
E-mail Jeremy Hauck at firstname.lastname@example.org.