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San Diego Zoo keeper clawed, bitten by giant panda; state regulators classify it as 'attack'

March 16, 2011 |  5:45 am

Bai Yun at San Diego Zoo. New details are emerging about an incident Sunday in which a giant panda attacked a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

A zoo spokeswoman said Bai Yun pushed open a gate meant to separate her from her keepers. A keeper tried to encourage Bai Yun to return, but the keeper's leg was seized in the panda's powerful jaws. The incident reportedly lasted no more than 30 seconds.

The incident is listed as an "attack" by Cal/OSHA, which is now investigating. The keeper was clawed, bitten and "severely" injured, the agency said. The keeper, whose name has not been released, was immediately taken to a hospital for treatment.

Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik said the agency will review safety procedures at the zoo, whether workers are sufficiently protected from the pandas, and what the zoo does when an employee is injured by an animal. An investigator will examine the scene of the incident and interview other zoo employees, she said.

The investigation, which could lead to a civil penalty, is expected to take months.

Cal/OSHA lacks the authority to tell the zoo how to treat its animals. That authority rests with various state and federal agencies involved with wildlife.

Last year, the San Diego Zoo was fined $2,700 for four safety violations involving an incident in which a keeper fell and fractured her tibia when a zebra became frightened and tried to run away. The keeper was restraining the zebra on a nylon leash.

Bai Yun, one of three giant pandas at the zoo, has been a major attraction since arriving from China in 1996. She has given birth to five cubs.

Despite their cuddly appearance, pandas, in the wild or in captivity, are known for quick changes of temperament that can lead to aggressiveness, zoo officials said.

Bai Yun is back on exhibit, officials said.


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Photo: Bai Yun at San Diego Zoo. Credit: San Diego Zoo