A cougar that bit a Lagoon employee who stuck her arm in his cage to pet him was killed after the incident late last week. Euthanization is required to check the animal for rabies and other diseases, according to a park spokesman.
Marketing Director Dick Andrew said the 16-year-old Centerville girl was taken to Lakeview Hospital after the Thursday incident and was released the next day. Andrew said he does not know the extent of the girl's injuries but does not believe they were serious.The girl, a ticket-taker on the Animal World train that tours around the Lagoon zoo, was turning off lights in the area after its 10:30 p.m. closing, Andrew said.
She apparently stuck her arm into the cage of Kumba, the adult male cougar, to pet him. The animal clamped his jaws down on her forearm until a park security officer arrived and sprayed him with pepper spray, Andrew said.
Five Lagoon security and medical officers responded as well as a Farmington police officer, Andrew said.
The incident occurred in an area that is not accessible to the public, Andrew said. The cougar was acquired by Lagoon in 1989 as a kitten and was bottle-raised, he said.
Farmington veterinarian Dr. Richard White euthanized the cat Friday morning and performed a necropsy, which he said turned up no signs of rabies or other disease.
"He was current on his vaccinations," White said. "We were just in there in May and did all the vaccinations. But there is no rabies vaccine for wild cats.
"We all felt bad about it," said White. "It was a hard thing, a tough decision to make. But the state law is pretty clear on animals that have not been vaccinated for rabies." White consulted with the Hogle Zoo veterinarian, state epidemiologist and Davis Animal Control Director DeeAnn Hess.
The victim was not a trained animal handler, and petting the cougar violated Lagoon's policy, Andrew said, but would not have been grounds for firing the girl.
"On our end, we would not have terminated her," Andrew said, but he is unaware if the girl may have quit her job on her own volition. Andrew did not release the employee's name.
The incident has prompted the park to retrain all its animal handlers and review its animal-related policies, Andrew said.
"This was not a public area so I see no physical changes we can make in the cages or bars. It was a very small area she put her hand in," said Andrew.
It is the first bite incident Andrew said he is aware of at Lagoon.
Lagoon is subject to the same federal inspections and regulations on animal care as larger, public zoos such as Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake, Andrew said. "It's quite stringent. It's very complicated to buy and sell or transport wild animals," said Andrew.