Virginia Zoo officials discuss safety measures after Cincinnati incident

Posted at 5:41 PM, May 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 18:44:51-04

At the Virginia Zoo, you'll see barrier after barrier surrounding most of the exhibits.

They're there to protect anyone from getting in a dangerous situation with a wild animal, as a child learned first hand in Cincinnati.

Virginia Zoo Executive Director, Greg Bockheim says safety is something he and his staff take seriously.

"I think anybody who has small children knows that within seconds, if you count to four, a small child can get out of arms reach whether you know it or not," he said.

The barriers at each exhibit varies. The zoo follows a national standard when it comes to guarding people from animals.

The zoo doesn't have gorillas, but there's thick glass protecting visitors from the orangutans, while still allowing guests to get an up-close look.

"They're so strong, maybe the strength of 6-10 people. If they want something you have, your food, wallet, earrings, they'll take it. They're so strong you can't let them come into physical contact with anyone," Bockheim said.

For more dangerous animals, like cheetahs, the barriers get more intense.

They have a wire and wooden fence, plus an eight-foot drop off that's like with what Bockheim calls "hot grass" that acts like an electric fence. There's also a deep moat.

If someone were to fall in, they have rescue equipment nearby.

"We have rescue equipment,  and then there's a pole right here with a hook on it so a parent or zoo staff member could get to the other side," he said.

And if someone's life is in danger, the zoo has a firearm team that's used as a last resort.

"There will be someone who's in charge of this site, when to fire and how to fire. Everyone who's on their firearm team is qualified to make all the calls necessary," he told News 3.

Overall, while they worry about the worst case scenario, there are a lot of other things to be concerned about too.

"I think you worry about a broken glass or someone slipping and falling, getting a head injury, that sort of thing more often. But, I would say anything an incident as severe as they [Cincinnati] had, is definitely on the back burner, and you're just prepared for it.

Zoo officials say they don't have any plans to make any changes to their exhibit barriers since they meet national standards.


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