Police question why lion attack victim was alone
The investigation into the vicious mauling of a lion trainer at Shoalhaven Zoo will focus on why the 35-year-old woman was alone in the enclosure.
Police confirmed they had handed the case over to SafeWork NSW as Jennifer Brown remained in a critical condition in St George Private Hospital with horrific injuries to her head and neck.
The much-loved zoo keeper's family members have stayed by her bedside as shocked colleagues tried to come to terms with the accident.
Police sources say investigators will look at cage cleaning protocols and procedures when dealing with dangerous animals, including whether two staff members should have been present.
The lions had been secured but their fate is still uncertain.
Ms Brown was cleaning an enclosure housing two male lions when she was "viciously" attacked on Friday. The two-year-old cats were born and bred at the zoo.
Ms Brown saw them coming and contacted colleagues by two-way radio but it was too late.
Shoalhaven Zoo and Adventure World has asked the community to continue to "pray" for Ms Brown.
"To all our friends, family and extended zoo family who have sent well wishes and prayers. It is hard to get back to each of you individually but we would like to let you know we appreciate and are thankful for all your love and offers of help," Shoalhaven Zoo management posted on Facebook.
"To the emergencey (sic) services who were involved today (Friday) we are thankful for your response of skill, compassion and care for Jen and the zoo team.
"At this point in time our only concerns are for Jen and her recovery. We ask that you continue to pray for her and her family."
NSW Ambulance staff said it was one of the worst jobs they had experienced.
Ambulance Inspector Faye Stockman said they found Ms Brown semiconscious with deep cuts to her head and neck. "Being the first to walk into the enclosure was one of the most frightening experiences - we literally had to walk into a lion's den," Ms Stockman said. "The attack was extremely vicious."
Thankfully there were no visitors to witness the attack, with the North Nowra zoo still closed amid coronavirus restrictions.
Police Superintendent Greg Moore said if it wasn't for the help of her quick-thinking colleagues, the attack could have been much worse.
"Understandably it's had a big impact on the staff - it's a small zoo and the staff are tight-knit," he said.
"And full credit to them for following their training to assist their colleague."
Ms Brown started her career as a zookeeper at Symbio Wildlife Park, working there for several years with birds and reptiles. She then moved to Cairns to the now-closed Shambala zoo, where she was instrumental in re-homing 23 lions after the closure. She joined Shoalhaven Zoo in 2013, caring for and training the park's big cats.
The incident comes just a few years after Shoalhaven Zoo handler Trent Burton was dragged into a pond by a 3.7m saltwater crocodile. Mr Burton was trying to lure the croc from its enclosure with a piece of meat when it launched at him in front of spectators. The crocodile quickly let him go, leaving him with only minor injuries.