Zookeeper loses fingertip as sea lion mistakes it for food

Visitors enjoying themselves at the zoo. At a holding pool last Thursday, a sea lion bit the tip off a zookeeper’s finger during a regular training session after it mistook her hand for food. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Visitors enjoying themselves at the zoo. At a holding pool last Thursday, a sea lion bit the tip off a zookeeper’s finger during a regular training session after it mistook her hand for food. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

A zookeeper lost part of her finger when a sea lion at the Singapore Zoo mistook her hand for food.

The keeper, who goes by the name Kaitri, was conducting a regular training session with the young male sea lion last Thursday morning when it bit off the tip of the ring finger on her left hand.

Members of her team who were there bandaged her injured finger and applied ice, said Wildlife Reserves Singapore's human resources director Jean Tan. She was sent to a nearby hospital, which discharged her the next day. The zoo declined to reveal more details about the incident.

The Straits Times understands that the keeper has been working at the zoo for a couple of years and has experience working with sea lions.

The animal involved has been with the zoo for a few years, and was being trained for its twice-daily Splash Safari Show, one of four animal shows.

Keepers usually reward sea lions by handing them fish, but it seems that this time, the animal mistook the keeper's hand for food.

"This is an isolated incident, and we have since reiterated to all our zookeepers that they should be mindful of safety measures when handling animals," said Ms Tan.

One of the more serious accidents involving a trainer occurred in 2001 when a bull elephant gored its keeper of 18 years, putting him in hospital for nearly two months with fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg