Bear attack reported at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

A zookeeper was attacked and sustained non-life-threatening injuries in December. A new report details how the bear was able to get to her.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reveals new details about a black bear attack at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in December.

The conclusion of FWC’s report was that the bear attacked a female zookeeper after she left a door open, which allowed a black bear named Johnny to escape his enclosure. 

The keeper ran to check on the bears after she heard Johnny fighting with a female bear, Claire, who was in an adjacent holding yard. She told officials that as she ran around the corner, she saw that Johnny had escaped and he ran towards her, attacking her.

It was 5 p.m. when the zookeeper was attacked. She had a radio with her, but said it did not have an emergency alert button, according to FWC. 

She started screaming for help as the bear attacked her. 

The report says the zookeeper had lacerations on her head and arms, and bruising and trauma to her back and thighs. These injuries were non-life-threatening and she is currently recovering.

The keeper was given a written warning. 

Employees threw pocket knife, sprayed fire extinguisher, attempted to shoot bear

Several employees reported hearing the zookeeper scream at 5 p.m. that day, and a red alert alarm was sounded.

Two employees drove a truck down to the enclosure after they heard the zookeeper screaming, beeping the horn at the bear. The employees were “yelling, throwing items, and sprayed a fire extinguisher at the bear.” 

The bear was not deterred by these efforts and bit the keeper again, dragging her away.

According to the report, at this point, one of the employees fired a Remington 870 shotgun at the bear, careful to avoid the zookeeper.

Johnny left the zookeeper alone and walked away. The employee then shot him three more times and he was killed.

At that point, it was 5:20 p.m.

‘He’s eating her!’

The report says that a veterinarian did have a chemical immobilization dart ready but the employee with the shotgun told her not to shoot because there was a human in the enclosure. 

She reported that he said: “There’s a human! There’s a human! He’s eating her!” 

Johnny had a history of anxiety

The report also details Johnny’s history. He had documented anxiety and was on anxiety medication, which he had been fed the day of the attack.

His anxiety was so severe, in fact, that he had all four of his canine teeth extracted due to “excessive wear on the teeth” from biting at his fence. He often bit the fence when he was nervous and exhibited other nervous habits, like pacing the line of his enclosure.

Johnny was a wild bear before he arrived at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. He was captured after repeatedly seeking out humans for food. 

The FWC attempted to rehabilitate him but “failed the process” and he was “deemed non-releasable.” 

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