Wildlife Parks Put To Reality Check

Thursday, October 30th 2008, 5:11 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley and Scott Thompson, News On 6

WAGONER COUNTY, OK -- A Wagoner County mans remains in the hospital one day after being attacked at a wildlife park. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it was the third such incident in eight years.

Peter Getz was feeding the animal when it attacked him on the neck. He's still in critical condition. On Thursday, The News On 6 looked for answers into who governs these parks and what is done to keep employees safe.

Safari's Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary boasts of having around 200 animals, most are former pets who were abandoned.

Reports indicate it was Rocky the liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger, who attacked his 32-year-old handler while being fed on Wednesday.

Safari's is governed by a myriad of agencies, but it's the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has the most power.

A spokesman for the USDA tells us Safari's has had two similar incidents in the past that resulted in fines.

In June 2000, a bear bit the arm of a volunteer worker and in 2003 the sanctuary was fined after a wolf bite, details of that case are unavailable.

Most zoos are accredited through the Association of Zoo's and Aquariums which has strict rules about how the animals are handled.

For example, the handlers cannot have physical contact with the animal and a boundary must be between the animal and guests. But the accreditation is not required for all facilities that display animals.

The USDA has its own set of rules but those are not as strict as the A.Z.A. There are no requirements about how to feed the animals and the USDA says the wildlife park can either keep the animal at a safe distance from the public or put up a barrier. The decision is left to the park's owner.

Lori Ensign, sanctuary owner and operator, declined to talk with The News On 6 on camera but released a news release asking for prayers and support.

"Due to the recent tragic event at Safari's, we are establishing a trust fund in honor of Peter Getz. In the interim, while paperwork is processing, you may give to Safari's Inc, via PayPal, check, etc. And upon fund finalization, all funds will go to Pete's medical care and his expenses. Please help, for this animal lover volunteered his time, for the love of the animals. We cannot express the remorse we feel for Pete and his family. We appreciate all your prayers and support."