Location: Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Date: December 29th, 1994
On December 29th, 1994, 26-year-old zookeeper Judy McAuliffe was starting out her morning rounds putting out food and cleaning the exhibits at the Riverside Zoo in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Kelly Jensen, another zookeeper on duty, went to the zebra exhibit while Judy was going to the leopard exhibit.
As Judy was going to clean a leopard's enclosure, she assumed it wasn't there since she knew it was locked up the night before and made an assumption it wasn't present in the enclosure. But it was hiding in fallen tree trunks used in there. As Judy was cleaning, it came and sprang on her, biting her in the neck.
Jensen heard Judy's short scream and rushed from the zebra exhibit to the leopard exhibit. He ran through the lock-up area and saw her unconscious with the leopard near her. He alerted the zoo personnel about the situation.
Paul Price, the zoo's director, heard Jensen's distress call about an emergency situation in the leopard exhibit. He rushed to the scene as an employee called 911.
Jensen was banging on the drain pipe to get the leopard away from the motionless Judy. Then the other zookeeper secured the area and was yelling and banging on the fence to do the same thing. As it finally backed away from her, Price arrived at the scene and took charge as he sealed the cage doors to avoid the leopard from escaping.
"Leopards usually inflict a single bite to the throat, then crush the trachea and kill by suffocation. I knew that she was, if not dead, gravely injured and that we needed to get her out immediately," Price stated.
Price told Jensen to get a shovel and something to shield them with. When Jensen brought over a Rubbermaid trash can lid and a squeegee since there was no shovel nearby, Price told him to keep the squeegee since it wouldn't help him. As they slowly crept to the enclosure to get Judy out of it, the leopard was growling since they are possessive of their prey.
Price slowly crept up to Judy as he held up the lid to keep the leopard away from him. As it backed up, despite it growls, Price grabbed Judy and slowly pulled her out of the enclosure. Once he and Jensen got her out, Price went to check on her as Jensen closed the gate and locked it. She had four big puncture wounds on her neck and he thought she was dead.
The zoo's veterinarian and a curator came to help Judy. Her color was greyish and she was gasping for air. Once she exhaled, blood started to come out of the wounds on her neck, as well as her mouth and nose.
Within five minutes of the 911 call, paramedic Dan Nation and his partner, John D. Schmidt, arrived. Once they treated Judy, the medics knew that she had an airway problem due to the attack. The rescuers were concerned that her lack of oxygen can cause long-term damage or brain death and if she had a neck fracture or not.
Price went with them to the ambulance since Judy's parents live in California and she has no realitives in Scottsbluff. "That's my burden. I'm responsible for that person." he sadly stated.
Judy was taken to Regional West Medical Center, where she was examied by ENT specialist Dr. James Massey. He found that she was in severe danger due to the fact that she has been leaking air from the injury to her larnyx and it continued to compress her lungs. She wouldn't have had the ability to breathe if that had been going much longer.
Later, a CAT scan revealed that two of Judy's main arteries that supplied the brain were clotted and no longer provided blood to there. They made a large incision in her neck to expore the arteries to make sure that they wouldn't rupture. Then she underwent reconstructive surgery for her larnyx and trachea.
After receiving Price's call from the hospital, Judy's parents, William and Michaela McAuliffe, flew to Scottsbluff to be with her.
Remarkably, Judy made a quick recovery and went back to work in two weeks. Although she doesn't remember what happened, she doesn't think of it. Even when she looks at the leopard, she holds no emotional hangs-up about it. But she is much more careful then she was before the incident.
Michaela praises the doctors, the rescue workers, and Price for saving Judy's life. Judy states, "I really enjoy the chimpanzees. I've been working with them for almost four years now and I think of them as hair people. I love being a zookeeper. I couldn't be anything else."