Neema lunged and roared at our NewsChannel 3 camera within seconds of stepping up to the glass barrier at the lions’ exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
Crossing a lion’s comfort zone will provoke an attack.
That’s what happened to a 24-year-old intern at Cat Haven in Fresno County on Wednesday.
The woman was fatally mauled by an adult male lion when she stepped inside his habitat — the large cat was killed.
The Santa Barbara Zoo gave NewsChannel 3 a behind-the-scenes look at security surrounding our local lions’ den, home to four exotic cats, three females and one male.
Sheri Horiszny, Director of Animal Programs, led our crew alongside the exhibit where zookeepers pushed aside a massive wooden gate to reveal a steel mesh barrier.
Two huge lionesses came running, cued by the promise of food.
Lamb, along with co-worker Samantha Marino, used a so-called “target” — a tennis ball at the tip of a stick — to guide the lions and interact with them.
“All these behaviors allow us to get visuals on different parts of their body,” Horiszny said. “Stomach, paws, command to open their mouth so we can see their teeth.”
“We do rest assured we don’t go in with the cats. I feel safe when I go to work,” said zookeeper Denise Lamb.
To get inside the facility, zoo employees must pass through three entry doors — two with windows — before reaching the lions’ den.
“We can see all the way down the hallway,” Marino said. “We make sure all four lions are secured and in proper spots before we even enter the keeper space.”
Horiszny said the steel mesh exhibit is inspected every morning, from its grounded reinforcements to its 36′ high peak, reaching toward the sky.
“It’s safe to visit the zoo.” Horiszny said. “Come on out! The lions are really beautiful.”
And still very wild, as you see them watch their giraffe t-v in the exhibit next door.