CREATED Mar. 8, 2013
Reporter: Maggie Vespa
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As the brutal, bizarre story of a lion attacking and killing a California zoo employee makes its way across the country, questions follow.
How could this happen?
And, more importantly, what is being done to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place here?
Plenty, say the experts at Tucson's Reid Park Zoo, who gave 9OYS an up-close look at how they handle their big cats.
"The difference between wild animals and domesticated animals is they've been domesticated for thousands of generations," said Adam Ramsey.
Call it the golden rule of working with wild animals.
"One generation isn't going to be enough to breed that out of them," he said.
Ramsey supervises the tiger area of Reid Park Zoo and says for all who have daily contact with tigers, lions or any other animal, the temptation to let your guard down is always there.
"They can be very playful," he said.
But it is a mistake that could be your last.
"An animal that weighs this much, and with claws and teeth like that, being playful can be very dangerous," he said.
Ramsey says hearing of that deadly attack in California is saddening but not scary, thanks to the long list of security measures in place here.
"Any time we're going into a holding or into the yard, we always make sure we have two locked doors between us and the animal," he said.
Ramsey adds that 'double door' policy goes hand in hand with their 'visible contact' one.
"If I put the tigers out in the morning and I come back later to clean the holding I still have to come around, make sure there are two tigers in the exhibit before I go into the holding," he said.
And finally, there is no hand-to-animal contact, especially when feeding.
As you can see, a stick works just fine.
Thanks to rules like these, Ramsey's near decade-long career in zoology has been injury-free.
And that's a point he hopes allows the others to focus on, what he says, is the goal of keeping animals in captivity.
"Educating the public about these animals," he added. "You know, seeing them in person just isn't the same as seeing them on TV or reading about them in a book. Getting to actually look at them can really inspire a love for these animals."