WICHITA, Kan – A first-grader on a school field trip to a zoo was mauled by a leopard Friday after the boy scaled a railing and approached the animal's cage, a zoo spokesman said.
The Wichita Eagle reported on its website that the boy received lacerations to his head and neck after the cat stuck a paw through its cage and grabbed the boy by the side of the head. He was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in fair condition.
Jim Marlett, spokesman for the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, said the boy climbed the 4- to 5-foot railing surrounding the leopard exhibit, crossed an 8-foot gap and stood next to the metal mesh fence of the animal's cage.
Naomi Robinson, who was at the zoo with her two children when she saw the attack around 1:20 p.m., said it looked like the leopard was trying to pull the boy into the enclosure.
"It happened so quick," she said.
The boy began screaming as soon as the leopard grabbed him. A man and woman nearby jumped over the railing and ran to help him, Robinson said.
The cat let loose of the boy when the man kicked it in the head, Robinson said. Bystanders wrapped the boy's head in shirts and towels to stop the bleeding as he lay on the ground between the fence and leopard case.
"It was terrible," Robinson said. "I'm really shaken right now. I'm just glad my children didn't see it. They were looking the other way."
A Wichita School District spokeswoman told The Associated Press that counselors were sent to the zoo to talk with children who saw the attack.
"Our main focus was to make sure our student was taken care of, and also the students who were at the zoo when the incident occurred," spokeswoman Susan Arensman said. "Not only that school, but many other schools were there. We set up a crisis team, talked to kids who witnessed this, and sent home letters to the parents of kids who were at the zoo to let them know what happened."
She said she was told a dozen schools from her district were either at the zoo at the time of the attack or arriving. She didn't provide an immediate count of the number of students and adults who attended the trip.
Arensman said the district has gotten several different versions of what happened to the Linwood Elementary student.
"It depends on who you talk to," she said. "We're getting conflicting reports of what happened. Some say he was by himself. Some say lots of people were around. It's been told 20 different times, what actually happened."
The boy's age hasn't been released, but Arensman said first-graders are generally 7 or 8 years old