A zebra in Buffalo Beal’s Animal Park in Maiden, North Carolina, bit the hand of a nine-year-old girl, severing her finger. The girl was feeding the animal when it bit off most of her right pinkie finger. Her father had to hit the zebra a few times to get it to release her hand.

The finger was not able to be re-attached. It was also reported that the girl is receiving a series of seven rabies shots. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The animal that bit her is clearly identified and can be monitored to see if it develops rabies. We don’t have clear guidelines for duration of monitoring of animals apart from cats and dogs (10 day observation), which may be why they are not simply observing the zebra for signs of rabies. However, it’s extremely unlikely that the zebra is rabid, and having the child undergo post-exposure treatment is questionable in the absence of any signs of disease in the animal. Regardless, the zebra should have been vaccinated against rabies beforehand.

The owner of the park apparently stated that what happened to the girl is "highly unusual." Severing of extremities shouldn’t be a regular event at a petting zoo. It’s rather disturbing to hear that this zebra has bitten other children and a volunteer over the past couple of years. A responsible petting zoo operator would not keep a "known biter," or would at least only have the animal on display in an area where no one could touch it. It’s irresponsible to put an animal that has been known to cause injuries in close contact with young children. Hopefully local officials will take a close look at this operation, however their ability to act may be limited because often petting zoos can operate with little or no oversight. A lawsuit is probably the most likely way to control such irresponsible behaviour, because the fear of being sued may be the only effective motivation for some people to clean up their operations. I’m pretty opposed to the way society is becoming increasingly prone to suing when anything bad happens, but this is a case where it’s not hard to argue that the petting zoo operator’s action (or rather, inaction) directly led to a serious and lifelong injury to a child. I’m sure there are some lawyers in North Carolina lining up to talk to the parents. 

The TV report about this from WCNC can be found here.