The big cat expert who was savaged by two lions at a zoo on the New South Wales south coast has been named, as the woman continues to fight for life.
Jennifer Brown was “set upon” by the lions while tending to cleaning duties inside their enclosure at Shoalhaven Zoo in North Nowra, NSW Police Superintendent Greg Moore said.
“I’ll take this opportunity to commend the two zoo staff that reacted to the incident and were able to secure the lions and support their colleague,” he told reporters in Nowra.
Ms Brown, 35, was mauled on the head and neck, an ambulance spokesman told news.com.au, with paramedics and a specialist medical team having to “walk into a lion’s den” to save her.
In an update on Friday afternoon, NSW Ambulance said the keeper had “a number of lacerations and bites”.
Inspector Faye Stockman described the rescue as “absolutely harrowing”, adding: “The attack was extremely vicious and paramedics found the woman with severe injuries.”
Ms Brown was taken by ambulance to meet a helicopter and then flown to St George Hospital in a critical but stable condition.
An investigation is now under way to determine how the attack occurred.
Supt Moore said he understands it “would not be normal practice” for someone to enter the enclosure while the lions were outside a particular area.
Inspector Stockman, who was first on the scene, described the situation as “incredibly dangerous – both for the patient and the paramedics”.
“This is one of the worst jobs I have ever experienced – I have never come across a job like this in my career,” Inspector Stockman said.
“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.
“We are trained to deal with extreme or unusual situations, however, we do have support services available to us.”
Police earlier said they were called to the zoo on Rockhill Rd just before 10.30am “following reports a zoo keeper had been attacked by a lion” and was suffering “serious head and neck injuries”.
NSW Ambulance earlier told the South Coast News crews were responding to reports of an “unconscious zoo keeper in the lion enclosure”.
She was reportedly comforted by two of her colleagues who helped to secure the lions.
A spokeswoman for the zoo told news.com.au on Friday afternoon no comment was being made about the situation at this time.
South Coast Police District officers have established a crime scene and are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Supt Moore said they will be working with relevant authorities regarding the future of the two lions involved.
SafeWork NSW was also notified.
According to its Facebook page, the family owned and operated Shoalhaven Zoo has been closed since March 25 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“While we are closed to the public we as a family will continue to live onsite and have key staff coming in to help us ensure the safety and wellbeing, cleaning and feeding of all our animals,” the post reads.
“We value our staff and it has been heart wrenching to stand down some staff. Stay safe everyone! Thank you for all your support and we look forward to seeing you all back at the zoo soon.”
During normal operation, the zoo offers a lion feeding encounter with its “Roarsome Foursome” pride of white lions including “the King of the Savannah”.
The zoo was the site of another animal attack in July 2014.
Keeper Trent Burton was dragged into the water by a 3.7m crocodile during a lunchtime feeding demonstration.
Audience members screamed as the crocodile latched onto his hand and slammed him into the enclosure fence before he managed to escape the ordeal.