SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A Potawatomi Zoo worker was attacked by a leopard as she cleaned the cat's holding area, leaving her with head wounds and shocking zoo visitors.
Zoo visitors watched Saturday as veteran zoo keeper Jeri Ellis was wheeled away on a stretcher, her head heavily wrapped in bandages and white towels spotted in blood.
Ellis, whose injuries were not serious, was discharged Sunday from the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend, said hospital spokesman Mike Stack.
Zoo Director Terry DeRosa said Ellis was doing her daily routine when she was attacked about 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the leopard's holding area.
"We work with wild animals, and that potential is always there, and people really need to be careful when they are dealing with animals," DeRosa said. "Unfortunately, something happened today."
DeRosa said she's not sure why the animal was with the keeper in the holding area, but she stressed that there was never any risk to any of the zoo's visitors.
Zoo officials are still trying to figure how the leopard attacked the zoo keeper. The leopard remains in the holding area, an enclosed area where animals are held when not on exhibit.
Officials said Ellis was attacked by a female Amur leopard in the exhibit's holding area. The leopard had been kept in the holding area since her cub was born in December.
Visitor Heather Eschbach said she and her family were near the prairie dog exhibit when they heard fire truck sirens as emergency crews raced to the scene of the attack.
Eschbach said that when she and her family walked by the front gates, they saw a section of the zoo blocked off and saw the victim being wheeled away.
"When we asked what happened, they told us, 'it was an accident,"' she said.
Eschbach and her husband Bryan shook their heads when asked if the attack concerned them.
"I think people forget these are wild animals living in captivity," Heather Eschbach said. "They (act) how they do naturally."