Child who fell into cat exhibit at zoo expected to improve

More details have come out about the incident earlier Friday at the Little Rock Zoo.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – THV11 has some good news to share after a 3-year-old fell into the cat exhibit at Little Rock Zoo.

The Arkansas Children's Hospital released a statement Saturday morning, saying that the child is "stable and is expected to improve."

On Friday, the 3-year-old child was being treated for extensive scalp lacerations, a depressed skull fracture, and minor puncture wounds. Lt. Sidney Allen with the Little Rock Police Department told THV11 that whether the puncture wounds came from the fall or one of the animals in the exhibit was not known, but doctors did say that the wounds were not life-threatening.

According to the police report, the child fell approximately 15-16 feet into a cat exhibit at the Little Rock Zoo late Friday morning. A primate zoo keeper made the initial call to emergency services after hearing people screaming for help; she told police that she ran over to the exhibit and saw one of the jaguars with its mouth around the little boy's neck.

LISTEN: 911 call reporting child falling into LR Zoo cat exhibit (http://on.kthv.com/1xzO1Zy)

The father and grandfather told police that they both saw the child's feet go over the railing out of their peripheral vision, according to the report. The father ran to get help and returned to throw items at the cats to keep them at bay—one ran off and didn't return while other circled back and reportedly bit the child on the back of the neck. The report indicated that the father threw something else at the cat and got it to release.

Shortly afterward, more zoo workers arrived. The report shows that one worker arrived with a fire extinguisher to keep the animals away while another climbed into the exhibit with a ladder to get the child out. According to Captain Weaver with the Little Rock Fire Department, the little boy was reportedly out of the enclosure by the time the fire department arrived.

John Swanson with MEMS said an ambulance was posted in the zoo area, so they were able to respond to the scene in two minutes and transport the child to the hospital in three minutes.

"Yesterday a child was transported to Arkansas Children's Hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in a fall at the Little Rock Zoo. The child's condition has been upgraded to stable and is expected to improve," said director of communications for Arkansas Children's Hospital Dan McFadden. "We respect the wishes of the child's guardian who asked that the child's name and any additional information not be shared at this time. Thank you for respecting the privacy of this family."

Little Rock Zoo spokesperson Susan Altrui released this complete statement from the City of Little Rock that stated:

A child fell into the jaguar exhibit at the Little Rock Zoo and has sustained injuries. At around 10:45 a.m. Zoo staff arrived at the jaguar exhibit and found that a toddler had fallen into the enclosure. Zoo staff responding at the jaguar exhibit immediately called for help over the radio and were assisted by other staff with a fire extinguisher to keep the cats away from the child. Zoo staff are trained to use fire extinguishers to safely overwhelm potentially dangerous animals if an incident like this were to occur. Zoo staff were able to successfully keep the cats back while other Zoo staff lowered a ladder into the exhibit. A Zoo staffer then climbed into the exhibit and retrieved the child who was conscious and responding. The child was then handed to the child's father and both were taken by golf cart to the Zoo's back gate entrance where the child was placed in an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital.

City manager Bruce Moore said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the child and the family. The safety of our citizens is of paramount value and our staff followed training procedures on rescuing the child and were able to respond quickly and efficiently and work with emergency personnel. A full investigation into the incident is being conducted."

The Little Rock Zoo was renewed for accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Accreditation is granted every five years by AZA. According to the zoo, they were accredited in 2001, 2006, and tabled for accreditation in 2011 over financial stability of the zoo.

Rob Vernon with the AZA said the Little Rock Zoo was last accredited and inspected in the summer of 2012 for five more years. He said inspection details are confidential. AZA inspects zoos twice a year.

Tanya Espinosa with the USDA told THV 11 they conduct inspections of the zoo twice a year as well and since October 2013 they haven't found any violations.

The Little Rock Zoo remained open Friday.


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