Bear shot and killed after attacking Jacksonville zookeeper

Published on December 22, 2022 at 9:17 am

A zookeeper at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was injured Wednesday night when a bear attacked her after escaping his enclosure, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Zoo staff fatally shot the 5-year-old North American black bear, which was named Johnny. Paramedics treated the zookeeper for injuries that were not life-threatening, then took the 35-year-old woman to UF Health Jacksonville for treatment, police said.

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Zoo marketing director Kelly Rouillard said the bear, which had been raised at the zoo since birth, had escaped an exhibit behind the scenes a little after 5 p.m. A police officer reported that the enclosure gate was open when he arrived. The animal came through it and “went directly to the potential victim who was then attacked,” the officer’s report said.

The zoo curator told police he fired four rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun, hitting the bear in the head, chest and back. The wounded bear left the victim and went back into his enclosure, where he died, the report said.

The zoo’s lethal weapons response team had planned to use a tranquilizer gun to subdue the bear but changed course when the curator saw Johnny attacking the keeper, police said.

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“The subject (curator) stated he was waiting for the vet team to get the tranquilizer gun ready, but feared for the potential victim’s life,” the report states. “The subject stated the bear continued to viciously attack the potential victim when he made the executive decision to move in and shoot the bear.”

This is not the first animal attack at the popular North Jacksonville zoo, according to News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today news partner:

  • In July 2021, a Jaguar clawed a man after he jumped over a gate of the Range of the Jaguar exhibit at the zoo and stuck his hand into the pen. The man, said to be in his 20s, was hospitalized for non-life-threatening injuries.
  • In February 2019, a zookeeper was injured when she was struck by the horn of a rhinoceros during a routine training session. An investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found that the keeper was separated from the 4,000-pound rhino, named Archie, but fell into its pen and was struck twice.
  • In 2018, a lion entered an exhibit as a staff member cleaned. The staff member escaped injury by jumping into a moat.

The FWC is investigating Wednesday’s attack, including why the bear’s gate was open when the attack happened, News4Jax said.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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