Bear shot, killed after escape, attack on Florida zookeeper

Employee suffers non-life-threatening injuries at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Photo from scene. (

DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. – A staff member of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was injured by a bear Wednesday evening and hospitalized for treatment, News 6 partner WJXT-TV reported.

According to Kelly Rouillard, director of marketing for the Zoo and Gardens, a bear escaped an exhibit behind the scenes and engaged with a zookeeper. She said an emergency call was made and that the zoo’s Lethal Weapons Team arrived within seconds.

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“Emergency protocols were put in place. The bear was shot and killed,” Rouillard said. “The keeper at this time does not appear to have life-threatening injuries, but was transported to the hospital for further evaluation.”

Rouillard identified the bear as Johnny, who was a 5-year-old American black bear that had been at the zoo since May 2017.

Details as to exactly how the zookeeper was injured remained unclear. Rouillard could only say there was “an engagement” between the staff member and the bear. She said she didn’t believe the zoo had video of the incident.

The incident will be investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Captive Wildlife Office.

In July 2021, a man who jumped over a gate of the Range of the Jaguar exhibit at the zoo was clawed by a Jaguar after sticking his hand into the pen. The man, said to be in his 20s, was hospitalized for non-life-threatening injuries.

In February 2019, a zookeeper was injured when she was struck by the horn of a rhinoceros during a routine training session. She was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The FWC, which has jurisdiction over wildlife facilities in the state, found Robie was separated from the rhino by horizontal bars, but fell forward when something spooked the 50-year-old rhino named Archie. She was initially struck, then struck again once she was in the pen with the 4,000-pound animal.

In 2018, there were two incidents. A lion entered an exhibit that was being cleaned by a staff member, who didn’t know the lion was there. That staff member escaped injury by jumping into a moat. In the other incident, an elephant broke free of its enclosure for a short period of time and was guided back inside.

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About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.