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Call for Jamaica Zoo crackdown

NEPA urged to act after taunted lion chomps on finger

Published:Monday | May 23, 2022 | 12:09 AM
A lion roars at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth, in June 2018.
A lion roars at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth, in June 2018.
A lion glares at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth.
A lion glares at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth.
A screen grab shows a Jamaica Zoo lion grabbing the finger of a worker who had been taunting him.
A screen grab shows a Jamaica Zoo lion grabbing the finger of a worker who had been taunting him.
Paul Fearon, operator of Jamaica Zoo.
Paul Fearon, operator of Jamaica Zoo.
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The head of the island’s chief lobby against animal cruelty has criticised the culture of provocation at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth, as “reckless endangerment” after a worker’s finger was apparently ripped off by a lion. Managing...

The head of the island’s chief lobby against animal cruelty has criticised the culture of provocation at Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia, St Elizabeth, as “reckless endangerment” after a worker’s finger was apparently ripped off by a lion.

Managing director of the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), Pamela Lawson, and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which grants permits and regulates the conditions under which protected animals are held in captivity, are scheduled to visit the attraction as part of an investigation this week.

In a video that went viral at the weekend, a man, later described as a contractor by the entity, was seen goading the caged lion before sticking his finger inside the corner of the animal’s mouth.

The worker repeatedly withdraws and inserts his finger for a short spell before the lion eventually clamped down on the digit.

The man was recorded by patrons attempting to pull his finger from the animal’s mouth without success. He appeared to break free only after the lion had ripped his finger off.

“It’s just not common sense ... . There have been many complaints about Jamaica Zoo. NEPA has to do something about this now. Surely this is evidence. This is a standard part of their tour,” Lawson said in a Gleaner interview on Sunday.

She added: “You keep kicking a do. After a while, it’s going to turn around and bite you.”

When contacted on Sunday, a representative of the zoo said that operators would respond today to Gleaner queries about reported complaints against the company and its treatment of animals.

In a subsequent statement, the zoo said that it takes pride in “the love, care, and professional treatment” animals receive.

It also said that the same standards applied to the professional conduct of all team members.

“The actions displayed in a video by a contractor to Jamaica Zoo are tragic and do not represent the safety procedures and policies that must be adhered to at all times at Jamaica Zoo,” the statement said.

But that assertion runs counter to several videos posted on YouTube in which workers are captured taunting lions.

In a July 30, 2016, video, a man is seen provoking one of the lions with a plastic bottle before repeatedly placing his hand on the cage.

And in a video posted on May 15, 2021, a woman is seen in front of the cage housing patting the cage while shouting to children on a tour of the zoo.

Three months later, another man was recorded caressing the jaws of one of the lions in a similar manner to the worker who was recently injured.

The zoo said that it is currently reviewing footage with a view to preventing future recurrences.

It did not say when the incident occurred.

“It is an unfortunate event that should never have happened, and we, the family of Jamaica Zoo, are doing everything to assist the gentleman in moving forward,” the statement said.

It did not give an update on the condition of the injured man.

NEPA’s CEO, Peter Knight, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com