A simple 'distraction' led to the scary encounter with a keeper at the Utica Zoo and one of the facility's three African Lions earlier this week.

That's from Executive Director Andria Heath, who got emotional while explaining the incident involving the male lion going at the female zoo keeper. She would be hospitalized for a bite for several hours after the incident on Tuesday afternoon but is otherwise in good spirits and seemingly ready to return to work.

Heath said she and the entire staff are still rebounding from the realization that the situation could have been much worse. "We're all living a zoo director's worst fear - that someone is gonna get hurt."

Health said there was an error caused by a 'distraction' and that the keeper missed an open gate. But, once the encounter began, the keeper kept composure to prevent the situation from getting worse.

'She missed a gate," Health said, "She ended up walking past this open gate, and then the male lion came out behind her. He was probably surprised she was out there, and SHE was surprised he was out there."

Officials have specifically described the encounter between the two, but Health compared it to something similar to a house cat using its mitts to bat back-and-forth and human leg or foot. Obviously, though, the lion is much larger and more powerful than a house cat.

The keeper instinctually reverted to her training, maintained eye contact, backed away, and then distracted the lion to get to a safe area. "She locked the gate with injuries, (containing the lion) then flagged down," another staff member to get.

The Utica Zoo was closed the day after the incident but reopened on Thursday.

While there is an ongoing review of policy and procedure, Health stressed the lion will not be punished in any way, saying 'It was a lion being a lion.'

Health said and others told the keeper to take some time off and she quickly expressed a desire to return to work. During a discussion about the encounter on the Keeler in the Morning Show (below), Health also talked about their upcoming accreditation application and this weekend's Spooktacular:


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