The attack happened Thursday morning while two zoo staffers were walking the cheetah to a behind-the-scenes exercise yard. The four-year-old cheetah, named Isabelle, was harnessed at the time.
Zoo officials say that the cheetah and its attendants encountered the zookeeper on the road, and that the cat initially sat down and appeared calm. Staff invited the zookeeper to approach, but Isabelle abruptly crouched and lunged at the victim when the person got close.
The local fire department was called in to assist after the attack. Zoo officials did not identify the victim or describe the extent of the injuries, citing privacy concerns.
The victim was treated at the scene, checked at the hospital and released the same day.
Zoo officials suspect that the cat was provoked by the scent of other animals on the zookeeper, who works with giraffes and “hoofstock,” as they put it.
“You can train a wild animal, but it is impossible to tame them and it just can’t be done,” Suzi Rapp, vice president of animal programs at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, told local station WBNS. “Instinct is so powerful,” she added. “They are a wild animal and we treat them as that.”
Isabelle arrived at the zoo in early 2017 along with her sisters, Ophelia and Luciana, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
The cat captured headlines last year after giving birth to two cubs, which she carried as a surrogate mother for another cheetah.
“Izzy is probably one of the most famous cheetahs in the world because a lot of people will know last year we did intro fertilization transfer,” Rapp said. “Izzy was the recipient of that transfer and 83 days later gave birth to two beautiful perfect cubs, Dave and Adrienne.
“That was the first time in the world that science had been successful.”
Zoo officials say it was the first-ever attack involving Isabelle. The cat has been placed in a 30-day quarantine and will be returned to her home in the zoo’s Heart of Africa section afterward.