To Whom It May Concern: The Belize Zoo would like to address the incident involving a youngster who was bitten by our ocelot, “Ollie”, as this has received much attention. An ocelot is a wild cat, native to Belize, and is considered to be a small-to-medium in size, weighing about 20-25 lbs. To clarify what occurred last Monday at the zoo, please read the points below.
Sharon Matola, Founding Director
OCELOT INCIDENT OCCURRING AT THE BELIZE ZOO MONDAY 15 JULY 2013
1. A young boy, approximately ten years old, along with his mother and other family members, visited “Ollie” the ocelot.
2. There were no zookeepers present. The youngster, put his hand inside the ocelot exhibit, seemingly to “pet” the cat.
3. In order to do this, he had to go to the effort of crossing over a wooden barrier, as well as ignoring the small mesh fence, placed there to keep people from putting hands in the exhibit.
4. Having crossed the barrier, and ignoring the other fence precaution, he put his hand in. The ocelot bit his thumb.
5. This was brought to the attention of Animal Management Supervisor, Humberto Wohlers, who applied first aid to the bite immediately.
6. Animal Management Supervisor, Tony Garel, drove the youngster, Ronald Altender, and his mother, Holly Altender, to Medical Associates in Belize City.
7. He was examined by Dr. Idelfonso Roberts. Dr. Roberts said that the wound was not serious. The thumb had movement, so no nerves were damaged, and no bones were broken.
8. Upon return to the United States, Holly Altender telephoned Tony Garel stating that her son was okay and thanking him for his assistance. She felt that the ocelot bite had happened partly due to the fact that Ronald is challenged by autism. She felt that the enclosure should be more “child safe”.
9. All of us at The Belize Zoo regret the inconvenience that the Altender’s experienced. However, there is a wooden barrier as well as small mesh fencing to strongly discourage the type of actions noted in this incident.
10. There are signs up in the zoo stating the big safety rule to “STAY BEHIND BARRIERS” and to “KEEP ALL BODY PARTS OUT OF EXHIBITS”
11. As people enter the zoo, the Entry zoo guard also states these rules to incoming guests.
In thirty years of being in operation, no incident such as the above, has ever occurred at The Belize Zoo. If our visitors respect our rules and guidelines, and understand that both signs and visible barriers are there for a purpose, which is to ensure the safety of both guests and our animals, then accidents, such as what is described above, will not occur.
Due to this incident, TBZ will be placing more signs warning guests to keep body parts out of exhibits and also, to respect barriers. In addition, we are developing a “safety flyer” which will be available as a souvenir, upon visitor entry to the zoo.