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UPDATE: Mauling of Ashlee Pfaff

Back in February, in "Are We Getting the Message About Big Cats in Zoos?" I wrote about the mauling and death, by a jaguar (named Jorge), of Ashlee Pfaff, a zookeeper at the Denver Zoo. Naturally, Jorge was killed. The update is that zoo officials have determined that her death was caused by "human error," in that she didn’t follow the safety protocols. She evidently neglected to keep two locked doors between herself and Jorge, and she didn’t make sure she knew where Jorge was before opening the access door.

Here are some lesser-reported facts:

  • Jorge was named after President Bush.
  • He had a brother, who was "the meaner of the two" and was named Osama.
  • The brothers were captured by a family in Bolivia who were keeping them as pets.
  • A conservation group brought them to the Santa Cruz zoo when they were 6-months old.
  • The Santa Cruz zoo gave them to the Denver Zoo in exchange for computers and lab equipment.
  • Osama didn’t qualify to be shipped to Denver and remains at the Santa Cruz zoo.
  • The feline exhibit where Jorge lived has been closed since the incident.
  • People have piled notes and flowers for Ashlee Pfaff at the entrance of the zoo.

Let’s deconstruct this story from Jorge’s point of view:

  • He and his brother are abducted by people. Perhaps their mother was near, perhaps they had other siblings.
  • They probably became too much for their human masters, and were "rescued" by other people.
  • They end up as prisoners at the Santa Cruz Zoo.


  • The brothers, Jorge and Osama, are separated from each other and Jorge, like the piece of property he really is, is shipped to the Denver Zoo in exchange for other property.
  • Jorge is a prisoner again.
  • A keeper fails to follow the rules of Jorge’s imprisonment, and he acts like the jaguar he is and is killed for it.

And all of this, for what? So we can learn about jaguars? How does taking them from their families and homes and orchestrating an artificial life for them teach us about them? And what right do we have to do that?

When I look at the photos above, I am saddened for the jaguar and the puma, whose dignity has been destroyed and who have been reduced to silly, mocking photo-opps for young people. The lesson that teaches the young people is that big cats are props for their summer vacations.

And of course, I am sad for Jorge, whose only crime was being a jaguar, and who was killed for it. And there were no flowers piled up at Denver Zoo for him.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. KZ #

    Well written and so True…

    June 20, 2007
  2. Martha Diaz #

    It is always a tragady to hear of a death of a human being killed by any animal. A dreadful thing for Ashlee… any one in contact with the wildlife, it is always a risk!! Honestly, while reading the article that 'flowers were left'…..I was expecting it to be for 'Jorge'

    June 20, 2007
  3. Mike Grieco #

    Hey Gemma,what if you loose your arm,or worse? Another Jaguar will be murdered!
    Isn't it disrespectful enough that these beautiful and innocent creatures have had their freedom taken from them to be put on display?!
    And i hope that the cable i see in the photo is not attached to a collar on the JAGUARS neck.

    'Jorge'…you are forever free from the abuse by human kind,

    June 23, 2007
  4. Mike Grieco #

    With "RESPECT" to 'Jorge',what has become in regards to his "lifeless" body?

    Does anyone know?…Please and Thank you in advance,


    June 24, 2007
  5. Richard White #

    I find the comments by the writer very irresponsible, and just downright misinformed. Certainly, there were flowers for the zookeeper, and why shouldn't there be? But there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that there was equal sorrow on the part of the staff for the death of that magnificent creature. For many of the cat species of the world, captive breeding programs supported by zoos such as the Denver Zoo are the only hope for the future of those species. Please, if you want to write a bleeding-heart piece of yellow journalism, at least do your homework first.

    May 8, 2008
  6. Richard,
    I have no problem with flowers for the zookeeper. I think you're missing the point. I don't think we should have captive breeding programs and I don't think we should have zoos. We should be leaving other species alone.

    May 8, 2008

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