The Worst Things That Have Ever Happened at Zoos

When one spends a day at the zoo, they may expect a little excitement, a little curiosity, and an awesome chance to see some of wildlife's most vibrant, odd, and fascinating creatures. What you don't expect is to fall into the pit of a lion's den and have your clothes and body parts ripped to shreds. Although you're likely among the vast majority that has never had the unfortunate luck of experiencing such a high-stakes standoff against nature's greatest predators, there are some who have not been so fortunate. Zoo tragedies make crazy news stories because they're actually so rare. But even some of the most experienced wildlife trainers, biologists, and veterinarians have had some very, VERY bad things happen to them at the zoo. 

All bad zoo news stories, unique in their own way, are nature's way of telling us that these beasts are not to be messed with. Lack of respect for the animal kingdom could cost you your arm or leg. And don't think that just because there's a thick layer of glass between you that these stronger-than-you-think mammals can't find a way to take you out if you make them angry enough. These animal anecdotes below are some of the worst things that have ever happened at zoos and are fair warning for your next visit. 

  • Bengal Tigers Maul A Zoo Cleaner

    Bengal Tigers Maul A Zoo Cleaner
    Photo: Nachoman-au / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    In 2008 at the Singapore Zoo, Nordin Bin Montong was going about his usual day as a zoo cleaner. Noted by onlookers as moseying his way through the Bengal tiger habitat, Mongdong had been sweeping the moat around the tigers' home. But when a group of the Bengals lunged at Nordin, visitors could do nothing but scream. According to sources, tourists watching the scene yelled at Mongdong to leap into the water, but it was too late.

    When workers finally were able to break Mongdong away from the Bengals, his injuries were far too serious, leaving no hope of saving his life.

  • Binky The Polar Bear Bites Back

    If you want to get up close and personal with Binky, then be prepared to face the consequences. After attacking Kathryn Warburton, an Australian tourist visiting an Alaskan zoo, Binky achieved unprecedented fame. Warburton had jumped a few railings to take a better photograph of the polar bear, but Binky didn't seem to like the flash. Binky stuck his face through the railings and chomped down on Warburton, breaking her leg.

    The polar bear kept the woman's shoe as a souvenir for three days until zookeepers were able to safely retrieve it. Warburton donated the relic to a local bar, and Binky reached peak stardom. Merchandise and memorabilia featuring the polar bear's face became popular after the story received heavy media attention.

  • Harambe Gets Taken Out To Save Toddler

    Harambe Gets Taken Out To Save Toddler
    Video: YouTube

    A 4-year-old made national headlines when he accidentally sneaked past his mother and protective fences at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016. Unfortunately, the little boy found himself smack dab in the middle of the gorilla enclosure with a 450-pound silverback gorilla named Harambe. Zoo officials eventually had to shoot the animal with live rounds to protect the child (tranquilizing it could have caused an adverse, violent reaction). Some argued that the gorilla was actually trying to protect the child, although police were worried about his less-than-gentle dragging of the boy across the enclosure. 

    As for Harambe, the gorilla unexpectedly sparked a rabid fan base, inspiring countless memes, artwork, and various other forms of internet media. Much to the Cincinnati Zoo's chagrin, Harambe's martyrdom motivated internet users to hassle the zoo's social media presence. The Cincinnati Zoo temporarily shut down its Twitter account in an attempt to make #justiceforharambe stop trending.

  • African Wild Dogs Catch Fallen Toddler

    African Wild Dogs Catch Fallen Toddler
    Video: YouTube

    While spending a day at the Pittsburgh Zoo, 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh got too close to the railing's edge of an African wild dog exhibit. The toddler fell over into the netted area of the enclosure and was immediately attacked by a group of canines. Derkosh's parents looked on in terror as their son was mauled by the animals.

    The African painted dogs were scattered away after zookeepers intervened, but one dog refused to leave Derkosh's body, forcing security to open fire on the animal. Derkosh's family came to a settlement with the zoo a few years later, despite the defense team arguing that it was the parent's neglect that caused the child to fall.

  • A Rhino Was Shot By Poachers At A French Zoo

    A Rhino Was Shot By Poachers At A French Zoo
    Video: YouTube

    A group of poachers broke into a French zoo in March 2017 and shot a 4-year-old white rhinoceros for his horn. The rhino, named Vince, lived at the Thoiry Zoo as part of the African enclosure.

    Zoo officials found the rhino's body the next day with his horn sawed off. Poachers tried to saw off his second horn, but were unsuccessful. Police said this is the first crime of its kind in France. Vince's subspecies is extremely threatened, and his loss was heartbreaking for zoo officials. The other two rhinos that share the enclosure were not hurt. Authorities suspect the criminals were interrupted and made off before getting the horns of the others. 

  • Mila The Elephant Stomps The Yard

    Mila The Elephant Stomps The Yard
    Video: YouTube

    New Zealand zoo vet Helen Schofield was making arrangements for the 7,600-pound elephant Mila to transfer to a new home. When Schofield entered Mila's sanctuary, the gargantuan pachyderm became frightened after grazing an electric fence bordering the enclosure. Spooked by the currents, Mila grabbed Schofield with her trunk, ultimately crushing her midair, all to the horror of a live audience.

    Schofield didn't survive her sustained injuries. After the traumatizing incident, wildlife experts became concerned about what to do with Mila. It was eventually decided that she would be transferred to the San Diego Zoo, where she would be quarantined and progressively incorporated into the rest of the elephant herd. Jenny Chung, Schofield's sister, attended Mila's arrival to confront the animal that took her sister's life.

    Chung expressed that there were no hard feelings, stating that deep down she knew that Mila didn't intend to hurt Helen.