East Tennessee zoo keepers take special care handling big cats

East Tennessee zoo keepers take special care handling big cats

Posted:
At the Knoxville Zoo no one is allowed to have contact with the big cats. At the Knoxville Zoo no one is allowed to have contact with the big cats.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The lion attack that killed a 24-year-old woman in California Wednesday is raising concerns about how big cats are handled.

"No matter what we do with them, I have respect. They are dangerous and they are wild animals," said James Cox, founder and director of Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue in Clinton.

Cox hand-raised his two adult tigers, Gunther and Gebel, since they were cubs. He says he has a special relationship with them and that's why he feels safe going into their cage with them.

"It's just like growing up with a family pet. You have to know how to read that animal. You have to know what's on their mind, what they're getting ready to do," Cox said.

At the Knoxville Zoo no one is allowed to have direct contact with the big cats.

Kelly Cox, no relation to James, is the assistant mammal curator. She says she bottle-fed one lion, Jimmy, for the first two months of his life, but she doesn't trust him now.

"I have no doubt that if the right mood hit them, it wouldn't matter that I hand-raised them. They could easily turn on me and do serious damage, if not kill me," she said. "It's a lion being a lion."

It's still unclear why the young woman in California entered the cage of the lion that killed her and what the contact policy is at that particular animal sanctuary.

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