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Florida zookeeper injured after bear escapes enclosure


(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — A bear at a Florida zoo was shot and killed after it escaped its enclosure and injured a zookeeper, zoo officials said.

The incident occurred around 5:10 p.m. Wednesday at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, shortly after the zoo had closed for the day.

The animal, one of two North American black bears at the zoo, managed to escape its exhibit in an area not accessible to the public and “engaged” with the zookeeper, according to Jacksonville Zoo spokesperson Kelly Rouillard.

A nearby staffer heard a cry for help and made an emergency radio call to the zoo’s legal weapons team, which “arrived within seconds” and fatally shot the bear, Rouillard said.

The zookeeper was transported to a local hospital with apparently non-life-threatening injuries, Rouillard said. Anyone still at the zoo was asked to move to its administrative buildings, she said.

The zoo is investigating how the bear — a 5-year-old male named Johnny that had been at the facility since 2017 — escaped its enclosure. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums will also be involved in the investigation, Rouillard said.

“A thorough investigation will be completed and any recommendations or anything further that we need to do … we will institute those steps immediately,” Rouillard told reporters Wednesday evening.

The details of what happened and the extent of the zookeeper’s injuries were not immediately available in the wake of the incident.

The zoo said in a statement the loss of an animal is “profoundly painful,” and Rouillard said they are heartbroken over the incident.

It is “standard operating procedure” to deploy lethal force in this type of situation, Rouillard said.

“With a bear of that size, the first thing is we’re protecting a human’s life,” she said. “Tranquilizer wouldn’t have been effective.”

The investigation will be conducted in the coming days and weeks, the zoo said.

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