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Woman Attacked by Jaguar at Arizona Zoo Says She Was ‘In the Wrong’

She had been trying to get a photo of the animal, which reached through its cage and clamped down on her arm

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On Saturday, a woman was attacked by a jaguar while trying to take a picture of the animal at an Arizona zoo. Her arm was gashed, but the injuries were not life-threatening. And now, reports NPR’s Vanessa Romo, she has apologized for the incident.

In a statement on Twitter, the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park said that the woman had “met privately with zoo officials to acknowledge her regret for her role in the past weekend’s events Wildlife world staff and administrators appreciate her sincere apology and we look forward to welcoming her and her family back at a future date.”

The circumstances surrounding the attack are somewhat unclear. Initial reports indicated that the woman had climbed over a barrier surrounding the jaguar’s cage in order to get a selfie. But the woman, identified only as Leanne, told CBS News that she had only leaned over the barrier to get a picture of the jaguar. She was, at any rate, within reach of the animal, which put its claws through the cage and clamped down on her arm.

“I hear this young girl screaming, ‘Help, help, help,’ and without thinking, I just run over there,” Adam Wilkerson, who was at the zoo at the time, told Fox News. “I see another girl with her up against the cage of the jaguar and the jaguar has clasped its claws outside of the cage around her hand and into her flesh.”

Wilkerson’s mother, Michele Flores, then pushed a water bottle through the cage in the hopes of distracting the jaguar—which worked. The cat let go of Leanne, though its claw snagged on her sweater. “At that moment, I grabbed the girl around the torso and pulled her away from the cage and it unlatches from her claw,” Wilkerson said. “The jaguar just goes after the bottle.”

Footage of the aftermath of the attack, shot by Wilkerson, shows Leanne writhing on the ground, crying in pain. The zoo said she received stitches at a hospital, but was able to go home later that night.

Speaking to CBS News, Leanne admitted that she “was in the wrong for leaning over the barrier.” But, she added, “I do think that maybe the zoo should look into moving their fence back.”

The jaguar, a female between four and five years old, was on display in a cage surrounded by a mid-size barrier (Wilkerson, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, tells the New York Times’ Concepción de León that it is “a little above waist height.") Leanne is in fact not the first visitor to be attacked at that exact enclosure. Last summer, according to CBS News, a man needed several stitches after he was injured by the very same jaguar.

Zoo officials have said that they will look into whether more partitions are needed to keep visitors safe, but they also emphasize that the existing barrier meets federal standards is there for a reason.

“When people do not respect the barriers, there’s always a chance there might be a problem,” zoo director Mickey Ollson tells CBS News.

Some have drawn parallels between the recent jaguar attack and a 2016 incident at a Cincinnati zoo, when a four-year-old boy managed to slip into the cage of a silverback gorilla named Harambe. Zoo workers ultimately shot and killed the gorilla. The jaguar involved in the Wildlife World Zoo attack has been removed from its exhibit, but officials stressed that it will not be euthanized.

“We can promise you nothing will happen to our jaguar,” the zoo wrote on Twitter. “She’s a wild animal and there were proper barriers in place to keep our guests safe—[it’s] not a wild animal’s fault when barriers are crossed.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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