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Zookeeper injured during bear attack at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

An emergency call went out, and the zoo says staff arrived in seconds and "had no choice but to shoot the bear."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A zookeeper was rushed to the hospital from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens after a bear attack Wednesday afternoon, according to staff members.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department confirmed to First Coast News it responded to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in the afternoon hours. JFRD says a person was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and is expected to be OK.   

The zoo says around 5:10 p.m. a bear managed to "breach its exhibit" on the non-customer facing exhibit side and had an encounter with a keeper.

An emergency call went out, and the zoo says staff arrived in seconds and a lethal weapons team "had no choice but to shoot the bear".

That bear was identified by the zoo as Jonny, a 5-year-old American Black Bear. He has since died, the zoo confirmed.

The keeper is expected to be OK, and the zoo is in the process of investigating how the bear was able to breach its enclosure.

"The zoo has been around for over 106 years and our mission is to connect people with wildlife and wild places," said Jacksonville Zoo Director of Marketing Kelly Rouillard. "We love wildlife and our staff has a huge passion for animals as well, our animal care team has cared for these animals for years. So this is something that is very disheartening to us to have to face a situation like this."

The spokesperson was asked if there were other methods that could have been taken to deescalate the bear.

"In these types of situations, be it in a zoo or in the wild, this is standard operating procedure when it comes to protecting the safety of humans," said Rouillard. "So of course with a bear of that size, the first thing is that we're protecting a human's life."

How the bear got out is still under investigation, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums will check to make sure protocols were followed.

"Examining the exhibit and talking to other staff, those are the first things that are occurring at this time," said Rouillard.

Jonny was one of two black bears at the zoo.

He arrived at the zoo in 2017.

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