As it made national news, the leopard attack on a Wichita firstgrader Friday at the Sedgwick County Zoo realized the fears of many a parent, and many a parent who volunteers to chaperone on a school field trip.
Thank goodness the 7-year-old’s head and neck lacerations were not life-threatening, and that he was able to leave the hospital Monday. The community’s thoughts and prayers will continue to be with him and his family, as well as with all those children and others who were witness to the frightening incident and its aftermath.
It was also good news that the rare Amur leopard is temporarily off exhibit but at no risk of being euthanized.
Mark Reed, the zoo’s longtime executive director, and his staff and board obviously need to examine what happened and whether facility or policy changes might prevent another such attack. As an investigator for and former president of the accrediting Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Reed is well-suited to the task.
A railing higher than 4 feet between the path and the leopard’s enclosure would better guarantee visitor safety, for example. But one of the pleasures of the Sedgwick County Zoo is creative, spacious exhibit design that avoids ugly, view-blocking walls and cages and allows animals to enjoy a natural environment.
Plus, Friday’s attack is completely out of character for the 40-year-old zoo, where no animal had ever attacked a visitor before. And unlike the Topeka Zoo, which only recently regained its full accreditation after several years of problems, the Sedgwick County Zoo has been accredited since 1981 and is widely admired among zoos nationally. It’s also a model for other nonprofit attractions locally.
It would be a shame if this event diminished the zoo’s commitment to naturalistic exhibit spaces or hurt its mutually beneficial relationships with area school districts.
— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman