Omaha zoo employee stung by stingray in jungle exhibit

Omaha zoo employee stung by stingray in jungle exhibit

Luis Padilla joins Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium as new president and CEO.

An employee at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium was taken to the hospital Friday after she was stung by a freshwater stingray. 

The incident occurred in the Lied Jungle shortly after noon. 

The zoo employee was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center in critical condition, according to a 911 dispatcher. Shortly before 4 p.m., zoo officials said, the employee was doing well and would be leaving the hospital.

A zoo spokeswoman said the woman was working in the jungle and had been in the water on the lower level, which is currently closed to the public. A total of 19 stingrays live in the lily pond there. 

One of them stung the woman in the ankle, its barb penetrating through her boot and wader. Four zoo EMTs responded and started treatment while waiting for first responders to arrive.  

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A sting from a freshwater stingray is painful but isn’t considered life-threatening. The biggest concern, zoo officials said, is that the woman could have had an allergy or developed an infection.

While stingray incidents are “very unusual,” the spokeswoman said, working with zoo animals always poses a risk for injury. 

The stingray is a shy and even gentle creature that would rather swim away than strike, according to the nonprofit National Capital Poison Center. It reserves its stinger for its predators. It attacks people only when it feels directly threatened, often when it’s unintentionally stepped on.

The dangerous part of a stingray is its tail, the poison center said. “The spinal blade is also known as the stinger or barb. This stinger is covered with rows of sharp spines made of cartilage and is strong enough to pierce through the skin of an attacker. Not only does the puncture itself cause injury and pain, but the stinger also releases a complex venom, which leads to intense pain at the puncture site.”

Zoo officials will review the area of the incident to ensure that the best safety practices are in place, officials said in a statement. 

“Our number one concern was the immediate care of our staff member,” said Dr. Luis Padilla, president and CEO of the zoo. 

Stingray Beach, a popular attraction where zoo visitors can feed and touch stingrays, has been closed all week for maintenance. 

Padilla said that attraction remains a safe experience. Those stingrays are a different species from the ones in the Lied Jungle and are “managed differently” so they’re unable to sting, he said.