COLUMBUS — A zookeeper was injured and released from the hospital after being attacked by a cheetah Thursday at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.
The attack happened Thursday morning in a nonpublic area of the zoo while two staff members were walking Isabelle, a 4-year-old cheetah, for her daily exercise.
Isabelle was harnessed as the staff members led her from the program’s cheetah facility in the Heart of Africa exhibit to the behind-the-scenes yard across the zoo’s Jerry Borin Trace service.
A keeper from the Heart of Africa region approached and, as Isabelle calmly sat purring, her handlers invited the keeper to come closer, according to the zoo. That’s when Isabelle crouched down and lunged toward the keeper, who works around giraffes and other hoofstock.
Zoo officials are investigating the cause of the attack but believe it was the scent of the other animals on the keeper that triggered Isabelle’s natural instinct to attack.
“Right now we’re just trying to iron out exactly what happened,” said Suzi Rapp, the zoo’s vice president of animal programs. “I can tell you the person is OK.”
Zoo officials did not identify the zookeeper or the extent of their injuries, citing privacy laws.
Rapp described Isabelle as “an incredibly well-trained animal” who has been trained to cooperate with ultrasounds, X-rays, blood draws and other medical procedures in order to minimize the use of anesthesia. This is Isabelle’s first documented attack, Rapp said.
The cheetah, who is up to date on her vaccinations, will be placed in a 30-day quarantine to ensure that she does not show signs of illness, required by the Delaware County General Health District. At the end of 30 days, she will return to her home in the Heart of Africa.
Isabelle, or “Izzy,” has the distinction of being the surrogate mother to the world’s first cheetah cubs — a male and a female — born using in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer in February 2020.
“Izzy, through leaps and bounds through the cheetah world, is a very famous cheetah,” Rapp said.
Isabelle came to the zoo in February 2017 with her sisters Ophelia and Luciana. Ophelia was euthanized in December after lacerating her Achilles tendon, a serious injury for the species.
Zoo officials noted that Isabelle is not part of the zoo’s Animal Ambassador Outreach program where animals are used in presentations to the public.
Reach Eric Lagatta on Twitter at @EricLagatta.