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Lion Tears Off Zookeeper's Arm

A 360-pound lion who tore off a zookeeper's arm at a Florida theme park will not be put to death, park officials said.

The 21-year-old zookeeper, Amanda Bourassa, was giving her family a private tour of the lions' sleeping quarters at Busch Gardens in Tampa when a male African lion severed her right arm at the elbow, said Glenn Young, park vice president for zoological operations.

Bourassa, along with her severed arm, was rushed to Tampa General Hospital after Sunday's attack, but surgeons were unable to reattach the arm, hospital spokesman John Dunn said. She was listed in good condition Monday.

Young said park officials had no plans to put down the lion, a 12-year-old named Max. "Obviously it's a wild animal. ... We don't feel there's any reason to believe that anything the lion did caused this tragic accident to happen."

But Busch Gardens has suspended private tours and said it would revise its safety policies.

Bourassa had been feeding the animal meat as part of a routine training exercise minutes before she was bitten, investigators and park officials said.

Bourassa and three other more experienced handlers were performing a routine training exercise with Max to encourage good behavior during routine health checkups.

The lion was called to the cage's bars and ordered to lie down with his tail extended through the bars, a position needed to safely draw blood from the animal's tail for health screenings, Young said.

No blood was actually drawn, and Young said the animal wasn't agitated.

During the training exercise, Bourassa rewarded the animal by tossing him bits of meat through the bars, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart, Young said. Max has undergone such training since he arrived at Busch Gardens in 1997 as part of its "Edge of Africa" exhibit.

With the exercise completed, Bourassa sat down in a chair next to the cage. As she stood up a few moments later still wearing a latex glove used during the feeding on her right hand, she looped one finger around a bar, witnesses told investigators.

"That was enough to start the initial bite," said Lt. Steve DeLacure, who is investigating the incident for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"It could have been avoided if her arm hadn't been there," he said.

While he is not considered a tame animal, Max has been touched by his zookeepers before and responds to them when they call him by name.

"There is a relationship between the zookeepers and this animal," Young said.

State wildlife investigators found no violations during an inspection of Busch Gardens on Monday.

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