Boy attacked by leopard at zoo released from hospital

05/09/2011 12:00 AM

05/10/2011 5:37 AM

A 7-year-old boy attacked by an Amur leopard while on a school field trip Friday at the Sedgwick County Zoo went home from the hospital Monday.

Via Christi Health officials said late Monday afternoon the boy had been released.

A zoo spokeswoman, meanwhile, said the investigation into the incident is continuing and a report should be due within a month.

The leopard — one of the world's most endangered species — has been taken off exhibit for 30 days. Plans are to breed the animal, said zoo marketing director Christan Bauman.

The attack could result in changes to the zoo's guidelines for school field trips, Bauman said.

The boy, a first-grader at Linwood Elementary, was mauled shortly before 1:30 p.m. Friday after he climbed over a guard rail and approached the leopard's cage, officials have said. As the child approached, the leopard reached its paw through the metal mesh fence of its enclosure and grabbed the boy's face.

Two adults nearby heard the child's screams and ran to his aid. A man kicked the leopard in the head, prompting the animal to release the boy.

He was taken to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis for treatment.

Zoo officials have said a parent was serving as chaperone to a group that included the boy, but a witness said the child was alone when he climbed over the four- to five-foot guard rail.

The boy's family released a statement Monday through Via Christi officials.

"The family appreciates everyone's thoughts and prayers and the quick action on the part of the bystanders who came to my son's aid,'' the statement said. "Thanks to their intervention, my son is doing well and will be returning home soon.

"We are looking forward to getting back to our daily lives and hope that everyone will respect our privacy. We do not wish to give any interviews or to make any further comment at this time."

The leopard received an outpouring of concern that the zoo might get rid of the animal after the attack. Numerous comments were posted in online forums such as the zoo's Facebook page in support of keeping the leopard.

The zoo plans to keep this one and have more, Bauman said.

"She's getting a boyfriend, and it's been approved as a suitable mate for breeding," Bauman said.

According to rescue and support organizations, fewer than four dozen Amur leopards live in the wild. The leopards live near the borders of Russia, China and North Korea.

Only about 300 live in captivity worldwide.

"With so few, you have to check families and blood lines make sure that you find a mate that can provide suitable cubs," Bauman said.

The leopard is being kept in an outdoor backstaging area.

There were reports the leopard retreated to the back of her exhibit after the attack, Bauman said.

"She seems back to normal, now," Bauman said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoos including Sedgwick County's, requires a report within 30 days. It will then determine if the situation warrants further investigation.

"This kind of incident is very rare," said Steve Feldman, AZA spokesman.

Mark Reed, executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoo, is a former AZA president and currently an accreditation investigator for the organization.

"He has a lifetime of experience and is well able to handle this kind of situation," Feldman said.

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