One of the most fun things to do in the summer, especially if you have little ones, is visit the zoo. It’s pretty cool to be able to see the wild animals up close and personal, animals that we would never otherwise get to see in person because they don’t live in our part of the world, are far too dangerous to be close to, or are very difficult to get near. Zoos provide the world with opportunities to watch these stunning animals and learn more about them.
But keeping wild animals in captivity also presents certain unique challenges. The predators among them, and even those which aren’t necessarily predators, like the monkeys, pose a threat to the safety of the zookeepers and the zoo’s visitors. Safety is of the utmost importance at zoos, and they all have strict protocols and safety measures in place to prevent any accidents, like falling into one of the animal enclosures, from happening. But sadly, sometimes, there’s only so much you can do, and accidents will still happen. And sometimes, there’s nothing anyone can do if a person wants to willingly jump into an enclosure.
There are far too many tragic tales of people losing their lives (or coming close) at the zoo in this way. Often, the victim is a young child, making the situation even more heartbreaking. Although there seem to be an endless number of these kinds of stories, here are 15 stories of people who, in one way or another, wound up alone with deadly animals in a pit at the zoo.
15. Negligent Parents Cause Toddler’s Fall Into Cheetah Enclosure… and They Follow Him Down!
At the Cleveland Metropark Zoo in Ohio, a two-year-old boy fell into a cheetah exhibit in 2015. Cheetahs are especially dangerous for any human, let alone a toddler, because they’re the fastest land animal on the planet, and although they don’t usually recognize humans as prey, there are several cheetah attack victims out there who would say otherwise. After the boy fell 10-12 feet into the cheetah enclosure, his legs were injured, making his situation even direr. But by some miracle, the cheetahs ignored him. They also ignored the child’s parents, who followed him into the exhibit to save him. But the zoo officials wanted to push for child endangerment charges against the boy’s parents because they believe it was their fault. Executive Director of the zoo Dr. Christopher Kuhar said, “Unfortunately, we have a number of eyewitness accounts that point to the strong likelihood that the child was dangled over the rail.”
14. Three-Year-Old Mothered By a Gorilla After Falling In
This incident got a lot of attention when it happened, of course, but it was brought back into the spotlight two decades later when a similar incident occurred with Harambe. In 1996, an unnamed child, aged three, managed to slip away from his mother while at the Brookfield Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. He squeezed through a barrier by the gorilla enclosure and then fell 15 feet into the pit of gorillas. One of them, an eight-year-old rare western lowland gorilla named “Binti Jua,” mothered the boy for several minutes. She picked him up, cradled him, and even carried him to the paramedics. During this time, she also carried around her own 17-month-old baby on her back. The toddler was alert and crying when the paramedics took him from Binti Jua, and amazingly, he only suffered a broken hand and minor cuts. Between a fall like that and being at the mercy of giant gorillas, he was one lucky kid.
13. Previous Child Gorilla Pit Victim Backs the Shooting of Harambe
10 years before Binti Jua mothered the little boy (so 30 years before the Harambe incident), a similar incident occurred with a little boy at the Jersey Zoo in the United Kingdom. Little Levan Merritt was five years old when he fell into a gorilla pit and lost consciousness. He was bleeding, and a male silverback gorilla named Jambo protected him against the other gorillas in the enclosure. Acting as his protector, Jambo stayed with him until Levan regained consciousness and began to cry. Then, Jambo ran away, at which point responders jumped into the pit to rescue the boy. Now 35, Levan says he backs the decision of the Cincinnati Zoo to shoot Harambe. His story was in the news again when Harambe the gorilla was killed in 2016 after a little boy fell into his area. What is it about little boys and gorilla pits?
12. Man Shouts About Jesus As He Leaps Into Lion Pit
At a zoo in Taipei, Taiwan in 2004, another victim of “hearing voices” jumped into a dangerous zoo enclosure. Local resident Chen Chung-ho shouted, “Jesus will save you!” after jumping into a pit of lions. The lion ripped his jacket off and jumped at him when he fell down. Then he bit him and clawed at him before retreating. Chen stood back up, outstretched his arms toward the big cats, then picked up his jacket, and climbed out of the pit himself. The lions, meanwhile, were being driven away by the guards with water hoses and tranquilizer darts. A doctor from the hospital the man was admitted to said that Chen, 46, had psychological problems. “He took this dangerous action today because he imagined he heard voices.”
11. Arkansas Boy Falls Into Jaguar Exhibit
In 2014, a little boy visiting the zoo with his father and grandfather fell 15 feet into a jaguar enclosure. It happened at the Little Rock Zoo in Little Rock, Arkansas, and somehow even though the three-year-old, whose name wasn’t released, wound up in a pit with the big cats, his father and grandfather reported only seeing his feet going over the rail. He had slipped under the rail while they were taking pictures. Other witnesses said they saw the two jaguars bite the boy on his neck and foot, but then, he was let go when his father and grandfather started throwing things at the cats. They hurled items like a camera bag and a water hose spool at the animals to get them to stop hurting the boy until zoo staff arrived via a ladder lowered into the exhibit. They used a fire extinguisher to get the jaguars away. The victim was reported to be in critical condition at the hospital and was treated for extensive scalp lacerations, a skull fracture, and minor puncture wounds. He went home after a week in the hospital.
10. Berlin Mother Swims With Polar Bears After Losing Her Job
At the Zoo Berlin in Berlin, Germany in 2009, zookeepers were moments away from shooting two polar bears who were attacking a woman who had jumped into their enclosure. The 32-year-old mother was identified only as “Mandy K” in the news, and she was saved by zookeepers who pushed one of the polar bears away. It was revealed later that she was depressed over the loss of her job, which is why she climbed over safety walls and began to swim in the polar bears’ moat during feeding time. One of the four polar bears in the enclosure jumped into the water and mauled and bit her, causing serious injuries to her arms and legs. At the time of her rescue, rifles had been issued to marksmen in preparation to shoot the animal, but it didn’t come to that. Zoo spokesperson Heiner Kloes said, “This woman’s behavior not only put her life in danger but also that of the staff who had to rescue her… we do have guns, and we would have been prepared to use them without hesitation if we felt it was the only way to save the woman.”
9. Father-to-Be Is So Obsessed With Tigers, He Jumps In With Them
In 2014, a man was mauled to death by a white tiger at the National Zoological Park in New Delhi, India. 20-year-old Maqsood Khan appeared to fall into the moat of a tiger enclosure, but it turned out that he had actually jumped in of his own volition. His family said that he had lost his job four months ago and had become obsessed with tigers after a random trip to the zoo a few months prior. After that, he would often slip out to go watch the big cats at the zoo even when he told people he was out job-hunting. It’s thought that he had mental problems. According to the India Times, “He sat frightened inside the moat for about 10 minutes before Vijay, the tiger, attacked him.” Witnesses say more could’ve been done to save his life. Onlookers hurled stones at Vijay to try and distract the tiger, but to no avail. At the time of his death, his wife was seven months pregnant.
8. Killer Whale’s First Victim Fell Into His Tank
In British Colombia, Canada, there was once a Canadian version of SeaWorld called “SeaLand of the Pacific,” and in 1991, one of SeaLand’s trainers was killed by an orca whale named “Tilikum.” On February 21, 1991, 20-year-old Keltie Byrne fell into a pool that contained three orcas. Tilikum pulled her to the bottom of the water enclosure, and she drowned. It took SeaLand employees two hours to recover her body from the orcas. Eyewitness Nadine Kallen told CNN, “She tried to get back out, and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under… And then the whales — they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.” The coroner determined she had died as a result of “forced submersion by orca (killer) whales.” She was the first of three victims Tilikum would claim…
7. Killer Whale’s Second Victim Found Naked On The Whale’s Back
In 1999, the body of a 27-year-old homeless naked man was found on Tilikum’s back. This was the same whale that had killed its trainer, Keltie Byrne, eight years prior. Having been moved to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, the orca struck again. Many people believe the creature’s aggression was due to its forced captivity and poor treatment for its whole life. It’s believed that Daniel Dukes entered the SeaWorld park that night to play with the orca. He was a drifter with psychological problems and a history of bizarre behavior leading to arrests. Most likely, what happened was that Tilikum dragged him underwater repeatedly, thus drowning him. Strangely, there’s no footage on SeaWorld’s cameras of the drowning. Tilikum would go on to claim a third victim, trainer Dawn Brancheau, in 2010.
6. A Literal Daniel In The Lion’s Den Was “Told By God” To Jump In
22-year-old Lucas Tomas quite literally became Daniel in the lion’s den. In 2004 at the Buenos Aires Zoo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the young man was “told by God” to jump into the lion’s den. Shockingly, they didn’t attack him right away, so then, he started waving his jacket at them like a bullfighter’s cape and taunting them. One of the two lions present, named “Quique,” pinned him down and bit him until he was hit by a tranquilizer dart shot by the zoo’s veterinarian, and a police officer scared him off by firing his gun into the air. Somehow, Lucas survived this God-given mission of his and suffered only minor injuries to his hands, arms, and face. However, he was also treated for psychological problems.
5. Man Jumps Into Lion Enclosure To Escape His Wife’s Nagging
One man at the Nandankanan Zoo in India in 2012 willingly jumped into a lion enclosure because he was sick of listening to his wife talk. Two lions named “Cris” and “Priyanka” were there waiting for him, and in the five minutes before 45-year-old Suryanarayan Das was rescued, Priyanka of the lions pounced on him. However, it stopped when the people started shouting and throwing stones at it. Das suffered several injuries to his skull, cheeks, neck, legs, and hands, and he regained consciousness in the hospital. Reportedly, he wanted to kill himself after a fight with his wife and due to the fact that he was constantly being yelled at by her. His intention was to commit suicide, but he survived.
4. Drunk, Naked Serbian Man Becomes Lunch For Bears Misha and Masha
The Belgrade Zoo in Belgrade, Serbia made international headlines in 2007 after a naked man died during the annual beer festival. The 23-year-old unnamed Serbian man was found dead and half-eaten inside the bear cage, his intact clothing nearby. It’s assumed that he was drunk when he fell (or jumped) into the enclosure from the wall of the restaurant located just above the area. Zoo director Vuk Bojovic said, “There is a good chance he was drunk or drugged. Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage.” Two adult bears named “Misha” and “Masha” had dragged his body to their feeding corner and reacted aggressively when zoo workers attempted to recover it from them.
3. Naked, Suicidal Chilean Man Survives Lion Attack
This incident occurred just six days before the infamous Harambe case, although it got much less media attention. Less than a week separated the two incidents, but they were similar in that both resulted in an animal being killed. In the case of the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo in the country of Chile, two animals were killed. This happened because a suicidal man decided to enter the animals’ enclosure. He removed his clothes and began to taunt a male and female lion. The lions began to maul him and drag him into their den, and in the end, the lions lost their lives, and the man did not. This isn’t the first problem this zoo has had; a lion and a puma have previously escaped from it, and faulty wiring caused a fire that killed four giraffes. Zoo officials said that shooting the two lions was “profoundly painful” for them. The suicidal man recovered.
2. African Painted Dogs Kill Toddler at Pittsburgh Zoo
Five years ago, yet another little boy fell into a zoo enclosure, and he lost his life. Little Maddox Derkosh was only two years old when he died in 2012. His mother had perched him atop a wooden railing on an observation deck to look at the African painted dogs, an endangered species, at the Pittsburgh Zoo. But the toddler slipped through her arms and fell 10 feet into the enclosure, where a pack of dogs attacked him. Most of the dogs moved away for zookeepers when they came in to rescue poor Maddox, although one of the dogs was aggressive, and he was shot and killed. Maddox’s mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, was cleared of any wrongdoing because it was found to be an accident, and the zoo was found to have met safety standards, although the Derkoshes and the zoo were involved in a lawsuit that was settled in 2014. The observation deck was removed, and the dogs were transferred to other zoos.
1. Detroit Man Jumps Into Pit to Rescue Drowning Chimp
In 1990, a man named “Rick Swope” attempted to save a drowning chimp by jumping into the chimpanzee exhibit. The truck driver, who was 33 at the time, couldn’t stand to sit by and watch the struggling animal, who was thrashing and fighting for its life, so he jumped into the enclosure to save him, to the shock of his wife and three children. He said later, “It was the most pitiful thing I ever saw. This chimp had his hands up, and his head was sticking out of the water. He was looking at the crowd. It was like he wanted someone to rescue him.” The chimp weighed 135 pounds, but the five-foot-ten, 200-pound Swope found him at the bottom of the dirty water and dragged him up the slope of the pool and onto land. The chimp never tried to hurt his rescuer, and it survived nearly drowning because of him. During his daring mission, zoo workers warned Swope to get out, but visitors cheered him on. Swope didn’t get injured during this incident, and he was thanked by the zoo for his heroic, life-saving action.
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