AN EXPERIENCED ambulance inspector has described the scene of an "extremely vicious" lion attack on a zookeeper as one of the worst jobs of her career.
NSW Ambulance Inspector Faye Stockman was one of the first on scene after the keeper was mauled by two lions at Shoalhaven Zoo.
"This is one of the worst jobs I have ever experienced - I have never come across a job like this in my career," she said. "It was absolutely harrowing. Being the first to walk into the enclosure was one of the most frightening experiences - we literally had to walk into a lion's den."
Experienced 35-year-old female zookeeper Jennifer Brown suffered severe injuries to her face, head and neck during the attack. She was flown to St George Hospital, Sydney in a critical but stable condition after being treated by paramedics on the ground. The lions attacked while she was cleaning the enclosure around 10am yesterday. Superintendent Greg Moore, Commander of the South Coast Police District, said police would investigate why she was in the enclosure alone.
"We understand it would not be normal practice for someone to enter the enclosure while the lions are outside the race area," he said.
"It is too early to comment about what has led to the incident, but police and WorkCover will investigate."
Supt Moore commended the actions of two other Shoalhaven Zoo staff members, who secured the lions, called emergency services and supported the victim until paramedics arrived.
It's not the first time a keeper has been injured at the zoo. In 2014, Trent Burton was attacked by 3.7-metre crocodile Johnny during a live feeding demonstration. Mr Burton returned to work with Johnny after surgery on his left hand, which Johnny bit before dragging him into the water. The zoo is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
At 2.30pm Supt Moore spoke to the media, and said the injured keeper was an experienced staff member at the zoo.
He said police would work with Shoalhaven Zoo to improve safety protocols.
"Understandably it's had a big impact on the staff - it's a small zoo and the staff are tight-knit," he said.
"And full credit to them for their swift response to secure the lion and follow their training to look after their colleague.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim, their family, and their employers at this time."
Supt Moore said he couldn't say whether the lions involved would be put down, however, he did say they had been isolated "in a secure location".
It is understood the zoo was preparing to open following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.