The Veterinary Role as First Responder to a Medical Emergency in a Crisis Management Situation
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
William K. Baker Jr, BS
Little Rock Zoo, Little Rock, AR, USA


The use of firearms to contain dangerous animals is an established wildlife management technique in zoologic institutions. Historically, the use of firearms in crisis management situations involving dangerous animals has been noted to be statistically significant. Recent international events indicate that a viable threat potential exists for human injury or mortality during a crisis event. This clearly indicates that veterinary personnel may be required to act as medical first responders to a firearm-incurred injury until paramedics arrive on site. As a result, emergency medical response training is recommended. It is anticipated that injury rates will continue to increase in proportion to event occurrence and that further research is indicated. The role of law enforcement in zoologic crisis situations should be examined and defined.


During the past two years a new variant has developed within zoologic crisis management situations. In several instances the lives of emergency responders and bystanders have been placed at risk by an inappropriate use of firearms while attempting to resolve crisis events. In one event a veterinarian was killed and in two unrelated events people were injured by gunfire. As a result, it has become necessary to examine the data and circumstances associated with the events in question. It is the intent of this examination to ascertain what procedures would be necessary to prepare, prevent, or respond to a crisis situation when firearms are used inappropriately during a dangerous animal situation.

Event Data

On 14 March 2000 in Warsaw, Poland, a veterinarian was killed when police officers opened fire on an escaped tiger. This event data in and of itself is cause for concern. However, three other unrelated incidents have occurred since the first and all closely parallel each other in key areas. While all events involved the use of firearms, it should be clearly noted that it is not the purpose of this paper to dissuade the use of firearms in a crisis management situation. The use of firearms to contain dangerous animals is an established wildlife management technique in zoologic institutions. Historically, the use of firearms in crisis management situations involving dangerous animals has been noted to be statistically significant.

The North American Crisis Management Survey is the best resource of statistical data in this regard. The survey was sent to 187 zoologic facilities in North America and 79 responses were received, resulting in a response percentage of 42.25%. When asked, “Does your facility have an emergency response team or crisis management team?” 69.62% answered yes, while 30.38% answered no. When asked, “Does your facility have an emergency procedure for escaped animals, and dangerous animals?” The answers were respectively 94.94% yes, 3.80% no, and 87.34% yes, 11.39% no, to dangerous animals. When asked, “Does your facility conduct scenarios or practice drills for a possible animal escape situation?” respondents indicated 62.02% yes and 37.97% no. In regard to facilities having animal escapes, 77.21% yes and 22.78% no, and of those who answered in the affirmative of escapes also indicating 20.25% dangerous animal escapes. With the applicable baseline, firearms usage can be examined. As to whether firearms are maintained on-site for dangerous animal situations, respondents indicated 73.42% yes and 25.32% no. When asked, “Has your facility ever had to use firearms kept on-site for a dangerous animal escape situation?” 17.72% yes and 75.95% no. Respondents clearly indicate while escapes do occur, they also have contingency planning, keep firearms on-site, and are prepared to use them in the event of a crisis that involves dangerous animals. Thereby establishing a historic context.

To better understand the threat potential of inappropriate firearms usage, it is necessary to review the crisis management events in chronologic order:

7 March 2000, Warsaw, Poland

Three Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) were intentionally released from their circus cages by animal activists. Two of the tigers were recaptured before leaving circus grounds. However, one remaining tiger escaped into city streets after injuring a circus employee. This tiger was then pursued for approximately two hours by police and an assisting veterinarian through the busy streets of Warsaw. The tiger was finally cornered on a wasteland near housing blocks in the Warsaw suburb of Tarchomin, located in the eastern part of the city. The veterinarian then fired a tranquilizer dart but was chased and attacked before sedation could occur. Police officers then fired a volley of shots and the veterinarian was struck in the head. The 47-year-old veterinarian, identified as Ryszard Karczewski, died later in hospital. The tiger was shot to death by policemen armed with rifles and pistols. The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper received an email from a group identifying itself as the Polish League for Protection of Animals. The message claimed that, “Once per week we will release animals from a circus or a zoo.” In review of the event, Warsaw Police Chief Antoni Kowalcyzk acknowledged that the police appeared to have mishandled the chase, but said that they were ill-equipped to handle such an unusual occurrence

3 April 2000, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Jose dos Santos and his son, Jose, were touring the animal cages during a break interval of a performance by the Vostok Circus in the northeastern city of Recife. Inadvertently, they approached too close to a cage. The six-year-old boy was pulled from his father by a lion (Panthera leo) and into a cage with four other lions in front of hundreds of spectators inside the tent. As the lions devoured the boy, police arrived on the scene and in an attempt to scare the animals away, sprayed the top of the cage with machine gun fire, wounding two bystanders with bullet fragments in the process. The boy’s body was recovered several hours later when police officers shot four of the five lions dead. A circus worker indicated that the lions had not been fed in five days. Police are investigating to establish whether the circus owners breached safety regulations by allowing the public to walk directly up to the cages. The lion tamer has been charged with manslaughter.

4 August 2000, San Simao, Brazil

Six circus lions (Panthera leo) were being housed at the zoo after local authorities determined that the lion’s traveling cages were not sufficiently secure. After escaping from their cage at the zoo, the lions roamed this town in southeastern Brazil until they were shot and killed by police firing machine guns and shotguns.

12 August 2000, Boise, Idaho

While the zoo manager of Zoo Boise was conducting an unscheduled behind the scenes tour of the Amur tiger exhibit, a tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) escaped through an open cage door. The tour occurred during the zoo’s 12th annual “Feast for the Beast” fundraiser. As the tour group entered the building, they lined up against the wall of the keeper service hallway. Friends of Zoo Boise board member, Jan Gould, who was located at the end of the line, was attacked by the tiger that pinned her by the head and shoulders. Sergeant Rich Schnebly of the Boise Police was accompanying the group and attempted to distract the tiger with a thrown bucket. When this failed, he fired his pistol three times, finally forcing the cat back into the cage and allowing the door to be closed. However, in the process of firing his sidearm, one of the shots ricocheted and struck Ms. Gould in the leg. She was then transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center for treatment of the gunshot wound and lacerations of the head, neck, and shoulders. Zoo Boise veterinarians and staff members sedated and thoroughly examined the tiger and found no evidence of injury or gunshot wounds.

To review, four of the events involve dangerous animals (felids), police, and firearms usage. In three of the events, people were either injured or killed. And, in all cases there was a questionable tactical use of firearms, not only in application, but the types of firearms that were utilized during the situation.

Event Resolution

In light of the aforementioned events, it is clear that zoologic facilities and wildlife managers should take preemptive measures. The threat potential for human injury or mortality in the process of resolving a crisis management situation is present. As a result, it is recommended that animal professionals factor into their emergency contingency plans and scenario-based drills the following points to facilitate an effective resolution to a crisis event involving dangerous animals and the use of firearms:

  • Veterinarians inherently have a higher degree of medical knowledge than other staff members in a zoologic institution. It is also likely that the veterinarian and their medical staff will be involved in a crisis event. As a result, the veterinary staff would be the logical choice for training in first responder treatment in CPR and emergency first aid, such is offered by the American Red Cross.
  • A dialogue should be developed between veterinary professionals and medical providers who have experience in the treatment of gunshot injuries, violent trauma, and triage techniques. This exchange of information would be applicable not only in isolated cases, but invaluable in the event of a natural disaster, due to the potential for widespread human and veterinary casualties.
  • Major cities worldwide indicate that they are experiencing problems in first responder times due to urban growth, call loads, and associated traffic problems. All of which lengthen response times to the incident site and could jeopardize survival of critically injured parties. Facilities that do not maintain emergency medical technicians (EMTs) on staff should consider sending a member of the veterinary staff through a recognized and certifying emergency medical technician course.
  • Trauma equipment kits for human usage should be maintained in multiple locations throughout a facility, with special emphasis on access for the veterinary staff. Kits should offer treatment options for a wide range of injuries but focus on severe trauma treatment. To date, the best examples for zoo usage are produced by Zee Medical and Certified Safety Manufacturing (CSM).
  • Crisis management situations that involve dangerous animals require resolution of the animal aspect of the crisis before treatment of human injuries can begin. This only increases the need for having at least two members of the veterinary staff trained in treatment of human injuries. Especially when considering that more than one person could be injured at a given time or place.
  • When veterinary professionals find themselves under time constraints, consideration should be given to sending a member of the veterinary staff for training. This would include veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, veterinary keepers, and interns on extended assignment.
  • Several facilities have chosen to out-source and contract EMTs for their facilities on a full-time basis. This has the merit of being sensitive to time constraints. However, this also requires a significant outlay of funds from the annual budget to finance this particular approach. Historically, only the larger, more affluent facilities have been able to take this course of action due to fiscal considerations. Still, it does have certain advantages over permanent positions with full benefits.
  • A member of the veterinary staff who has already received training in CPR and emergency first aid through the American Red Cross would be eligible to pursue further training towards an instructorship. This would, in turn, provide the facility with a staff member who not only has advanced training, but who also can act as an in-house training resource for other staff members.
  • Veterinary staff members should be familiar not only with the aspects of animal sedation utilizing a dart projector, but also with all aspects of the weapons response for a zoologic institution. Conversely, staff members involved in emergency response procedures should be cross-trained on dart projectors, dosages, and applications. This could be facilitated by the veterinary staff or outsourced to a private agency such as Safe Capture International, Incorporated.
  • A senior or associate veterinarian should be involved with any dialogue that occurs at a zoologic facility in regard to development of a law enforcement protocol agreement. This agreement should not only clearly delineate the role of emergency responders, but local law enforcement as well. Specific attention should be paid to language that addresses law enforcement presence on grounds and pursuit by staff of an escaped specimen once it physically leaves the grounds of a facility. Spheres of influence and liability should be clearly determined.


The problems associated with resolving crisis management situations are not only complex, but multifaceted as well. Local governments no longer see performance measurement as an option, but as a requirement. They have identified the four key areas which influence first response medical care in the field: response time, effectiveness, workload, and cost. Unfortunately, these areas are at odds with the previously mentioned urban growth, resulting in higher demands, coupled with higher population density, higher call loads, and traffic problems which translate into delays in the field to reach injured parties.

Yet, at the same time the public has shown an accelerating trend and aversion to supporting tax initiatives that would empower public officials to raise revenue in order to provide more effective vital services to their communities. While at the same time professional organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are considering adopting national standards for minimum response times.

When considering the issue of gunshot wounds themselves, the annual medical cost in the United States is close to $2.3 billion, with staggering associated injury and mortality rates. Conversely, this has created a wealth of treatment data for the medical professional to draw upon. Still, this should be tempered by the realization that while most medical providers do treat gunshot injuries, they are unlikely to have encountered a wound inflicted by a high-velocity, safari-grade bullet that was designed specifically to penetrate, expand, and cause maximum tissue destruction. As a result, a well-trained vet staff is an asset.

Conversely, the relationship between zoologic facilities and law enforcement agencies should be reexamined. According to the North American Crisis Management Survey (1996), when facilities were asked if they have an escaped animal protocol agreement with local law enforcement, 41.77% responded yes. Also, when asked if a law enforcement agency assists with firearms training, 44.30% responded yes. While local law enforcement agencies are a convenient resource for zoologic facilities, the question should be raised: Are they sufficiently equipped or trained to respond to a dangerous animal crisis situation? Moreover, are they familiar with the ethology of dangerous animals or the safari-grade weaponry that will be needed in a tactical situation to resolve a crisis similar to the aforementioned examples in a proficient manner?

Numerous zoologic facilities in North America maintain safari-grade firearms and ammunition on grounds. As a result, more often than not, they maintain equipment superior to their law enforcement counterparts. The reason for this is two-fold. The need for advanced weaponry is understood by zoologic professionals in light of the historic relationship between conservation and big game hunters, which is, in turn, tempered by their knowledge and training in dangerous animal management. This, in turn, supports the willingness of institutions to commit significant financial resources for firearms, ammunition, and training. Simply put, it is preferable to invest in a resolution rather than face the consequences of liability, litigation, and years of long-term damage to public relations and marketing. From a fiscal management point of view alone, it is the cost effective choice for a zoologic facility in modern society.


As crisis managers we should be aware that precedence necessitates a need for proactive measures. Still, we must keep in mind all of the hypothetic components that could lead to gunshot injury and act accordingly to prevent the incident from occurring in the first place. This can be facilitated through study of current literature and previous experiences,1-21 evaluation, and training. The basic factors of animal behavior cannot be dismissed such as primary signs of aggression or the “fight or flight” response with their associated distances and resulting actions, such as an animal attack resulting in either conspecific or human injury. Law enforcement agreements should be reconsidered in light of the previously mentioned events, as zoologic professionals appear to be the better equipped and trained personnel for resolving dangerous animal situations. The use of firearms in a crisis is a viable option, but it should be tempered by the experience, safety, and skill of the responders.

Literature Cited

1.  Baker WK Jr. The weapons response in a zoological crisis situation. In: Chan S, Baker WK Jr, Guerrero DL, eds. Resources for Crisis Management. Topeka, KS: AAZK; 1999:133–159.

2.  Baker WK Jr, Hainley PM, Seubert KW. The North American crisis management survey. Animal Keeper’s Forum. 1996;23:410–420.

3.   “Police Kill Vet in Tiger Drama,” BBC News, March 14, 2000.

4.  “Vet Killed in Escaped Tiger Blunder,” BBC News, March 14, 2000.

5.  “Circus Lions Kill Brazilian Boy,” BBC News, April 10 , 2000.

6.  Boge, P. Veterinary Disaster Team Resource Development Guide. 2nd ed. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press; 1999.

7.  Resources for Crisis Management. Chan S, Baker WK Jr, Guerrero DL, eds. Topeka, KS: AAZK; 1999.

8.  “Polish Police Kill Escaped Tiger and Veterinarian in Chase,”, accessed March 14, 2000.

9.  EMS Operations Page. Response times. 12 March 2001, 9 pp.

10.  Fackler ML. Civilian gunshot wounds and ballistics: dispelling the myths. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 1998;16(1):17–28.

11.  Kemp RL. Forces of Change. Fire Chief. 2001;January:42–43.

12.  List of circus animal mishaps. HSUS; March 22, 2001:17.

13.  McKinnie J, Fadness G. “Officials Say Tiger’s Cage Was Left Open; Veterinarians Say Tiger Was Not Hit by Bullets,” Idaho Statesman, August 13, 2000.

14.  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Animal Attacks: Captive Felines.” Accessed March 3, 2001.

15.  “Annual Medical Cost of Gunshot Wounds in U.S. Close to $2.3 Billion,” Reuters Medical News, March 12 , 2001.

16.  Schenk TL. Measures for Medics. Fire Chief. January 2001:32–34.

17.  Scislowska M. "Poland Deadly Tiger Escape Probed," Tiger Paw News, March 16, 2000.

18.  Silvia AJ. Mechanism of injury in gunshot wounds: myths and reality. Crit Care Nurs Q. 1999;22(1):69–74.

19.  "Polish Police Kill Escaped Tiger and Vet in Chase. Tiger Paw News; March 14, 2000.

20.  "Veterinarian Accidentally Shot," Tiger Paw News, March 14, 2000.

21.  “Response times,” Accessed 12 March 12, 2001. TRAUMA.ORG/trauma-list.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

William K. Baker Jr., BS
Little Rock Zoo
Little Rock, AR, USA

MAIN : 2001 : Veterinarians as First Responder to a Medical Emergency
Powered By VIN