GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A 200-pound jaguar pushed open a motorized automatic door on its holding cage before attacking and killing a pregnant zookeeper, city investigators said Friday.
Gayle Booth of Kent City, who marked her 30th birthday the day before her death, was found dead in a holding area Sunday at the John Ball Park Zoo inside the building that housed the 6-year-old male jaguar.
She was expecting her first child in two months and had been a part-time employee for five years. Zoo director Charles Wickenhauser said she was trained to work with the jaguars and other large cats in the South American exhibit.
City manager G. Stevens Bernard said a task force of city and zoo officials and local engineers believe the jaguar escaped its holding cage into an employee serve area by pushing a motorized door that permits access to the viewing area in the exhibit.
The animal somehow created about a 12-inch opening between the bottom of the cage door and a metal cage pole, officials said. Wickenhauser said the animal's width across the shoulders also is approximately 12 inches.
'We are continuing our investigation into the design and construction of the door,' Bernard said. 'We know how the cat got out, but why he did is still speculation at this point.'
He said there have been no reports that the door has malfunctioned. He said it has successfully been opened and closed hundreds of times since its installation.
No decision has been made on what, if anything, will be done with the jaguar. The animal is an endangered species and cannot be killed in the wild but does not enjoy that same protection in zoo facilities, Wickenhauser said.