Man scratched by cougar at Como Zoo, police say
By Mara H. Gottfried
Posted: 10/11/2014 12:01:00 AM CDT
When a 23-year-old man climbed a guardrail at St. Paul's Como Zoo and apparently was clawed by a cougar, a park employee asked him why he'd done it.
"Everybody gets the urge to do something," the man replied, according to a police report.
St. Paul police said Brian Casey Phillips of Minneapolis suffered a scratch and didn't need medical attention Thursday. He was cited for disturbing zoo animals.
Police identified Phillips by a Hennepin County Jail bracelet that he was wearing, said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a police spokesman.
About nine hours earlier, he had been released from jail, where he had been held since Tuesday after being somewhere else he wasn't supposed to be -- walking on light-rail tracks in a tunnel at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport.
Cases like Thursday's at the St. Paul zoo are unusual, said Matt Reinartz, a Como Zoo and Conservatory spokesman.
"Unfortunately, we do hear the rare occasion that a guest feels the need to penetrate a space that is not intended for their use, and the industry has learned that no matter what height a barrier is created, these perpetrators will find a way to breach it," Reinartz said in an email.
"Safety for our visitors and the animals is our number one priority. People will go to great lengths to make poor decisions, and when poor decisions are made, it puts both individuals and the animals at risk."
Police were sent to the zoo about 3:45 p.m.
An officer was told a man climbed the fence near the cougar exhibit and came out a minute later with bloody hands, Paulos said.
No zoo staff saw what happened. Near the exhibit is a 3 1/2-foot guardrail, which the man allegedly climbed up and onto, Reinartz said. He didn't go over the tall mesh barriers on the other side, he said.
At least 10 signs in the area of the cougar exhibit say, "Dangerous area, stay behind guardrail," "Thank you for not climbing," and "Warning: Stay back, stay safe," according to the zoo spokesman.
The man yelled at the cougars and pushed on a mesh barrier, Reinartz said. Zoo staff who saw the man after the incident said he was wearing headphones and listening to loud music, he said. Workers had to tap him on his shoulder to get his attention.
"He denied leaping onto the railing and reached through the mesh barriers," Reinartz said. "When asked about the (superficial) scratch on his hand, he said he suffered that exiting the bus."
Phillips couldn't be reached for comment Friday.