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ilbegone
02-03-2010, 10:21 PM
Raccoon escapes cage


A raccoon somehow slipped out of its cage at a Bakersfield zoo and attacked a man and his 8-year-old daughter, gnawing into the man's finger and clawing his legs in what he described as a bloody wrestling match that lasted several minutes.

Ian Smith, an unemployed 30-year-old medical supply salesman and competitive kick boxer, received about 20 rabies shots around his gashes and puncture wounds after Sunday's encounter. The raccoon, which was euthanized, proved not to be rabid, sparing Smith further injections.

"It's a bad accident and we're very sorry it happened," said Tom Anspach, director of the California Living Museum, a zoo and botanical garden run by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. The facility beside the Kern River is a favorite for student field trips and family outings.

A regular at the zoo, Smith said he, a friend and his daughter McKinzie were strolling on a pathway through a wooded area when he noticed a raccoon "messing around an aviary" 50 or 60 feet away. Suddenly, he said, the animal charged them, grasping his daughter's leg.

"I've never kicked anything so hard," said Smith, who tore McKinzie away from the raccoon, lifted her above his head and urged his friend to grab her and run.

According to Smith, that was the start of a five-minute struggle.

"At one point, it took me down and I hit my head," he said. "I kicked back to fend it off and it ripped my shoe off. It got hold of my left hand and bit my fingertip all the way through the bone."

Smith, though exhausted, finally was able to grip the 22-pound male raccoon by the scruff of the neck, force its face to the ground and kneel on it until zoo staff members arrived with cage and net.

"It was completely unprovoked," he said of the attack, which was first reported in the Bakersfield Californian. Zoo officials said staffers did not witness the incident.

School district spokesman Jim Varley said the episode was the first of its kind since the Living Museum, which exhibits only plants and animals native to California, was acquired by the district more than 10 years ago. He said the district would submit Smith's medical bills to its insurance carrier.

Anspach, the facility's director, said a family had kept the animal for a year and a half after finding it on a roadside. As it grew, he said, the family "couldn't handle it anymore." They dropped it off in January.

The raccoon was being kept in a quarantine cage -- a standard procedure for new arrivals -- and may have squeezed through a wire barrier, Anspach said.

Staff members had noticed the animal was missing and searched for it Sunday morning, he said, but they concluded it had left the property, perhaps headed for a nearby park.

Smith was treated at a local hospital. Hearing that Smith couldn't drive with his injured hands, Anspach personally delivered medication to his home.

"He seemed genuinely concerned," Smith said.