Petting zoo zebra bites North Carolina girl’s finger off

While attending K-State as a veterinary student, I’ve had the chance to observe many clinical cases in the teaching hospital ranging from a broken puppy leg to a zebra exam. That’s right, a zebra. Last fall a zebra from a zoo came into the hospital, and upon hearing about it, I quickly went down to its stall to take a look at the animal up close. I quickly found out that ‘close’ was a relative term when it comes to zebras, as the animal was in a very secure pen with a large sign that read: “Caution: zebra is aggressive.” Who would’ve thought that a wild animal would be… wild? I left the hospital that day without any injuries, but unfortunately a little girl (right) in North Carolina found out how wild zebras really are when she left a petting zoo without half a finger.

According to the news story, nine-year-old Elizabeth was hand feeding a zebra at a petting zoo when it took off nearly all of her right pinkie finger. "It actually grabbed onto my hand and took it back a little bit. My papa had to smack it a few times to get my hand back. I was really scared," she said. Elizabeth is recovering with her bandaged half-pinkie and she’s also receiving a series of seven rabies shots.

"I still couldn’t believe it happened. It’s not something you hear every day that your daughter’s finger has gotten bitten off by a zebra," explained Elizabeth’s mom, Kristy Ross (left). "I just assumed if they’re giving me the food to feed them it will be OK. It’s going to be safe."

Unfortunately those assumptions didn’t protect the little girl from the zebra. I can see the appeal of feeding goats and sheep, but zebras?! They’re unpredictable animals and have been known to rear up and kick or bite attackers when cornered. In the case of Elizabeth in NC, there’s not just one person to blame. The petting zoo owner admitted that two kids and one volunteer have been bitten in the last couple of years at his zoo, yet he didn’t remove the zebra from the exhibit. Maybe the owner should replace it with a Tijuana zebra.  And as Elizabeth’s mom incorrectly assumed, being given food to feed a zebra doesn’t automatically make the zebra safe.

Animal behavior problems aside, I wonder how many of the petting zoo animals are infected with E. coli?  Are there hand washing stations nearby? 

To the right is a picture I took at the state fair last year.  Luckily I wasn’t bit.