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Man bitten by lion after he climbs into Fresno zoo enclosure. He says he was chased there

Fresno Chaffee Zoo lions, mother and daughter Kiki, left, and Zamaya, sun themselves on Pride Rock in 2015.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo lions, mother and daughter Kiki, left, and Zamaya, sun themselves on Pride Rock in 2015. Fresno Bee file

A man bitten by a lioness at Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo was rushed to the hospital Wednesday night after he was rescued by zoo security officers, officials say.

The man, who was bitten on the big toe, was treated and released. Lt. Mark Hudson identified him as Julio Mendez. He told officers that he was being chased by another man when he fled into the zoo. He was cited by officers for trespassing, but not jailed.

The incident took place about 11:13 p.m., according to police.

Lyn Myers, general curator at the zoo, said security officers were aware that someone had entered zoo grounds and were looking for the intruder when they heard someone shouting for help from the lion enclosure.

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One of the viewing areas of the lion exhibit includes a clear widow for an up close look at Kiki and Zamaya. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The man apparently crossed over a four-foot barrier fence near the enclosure, then began climbing a mesh fence in front of the exhibit when a lioness grabbed his left big toe. There are two lionesses in the enclosure, Zamaya, 4 years old, and Kiki, in her mid-teens. Myers said she did not know which animal grabbed Mendez’s toe, but the lioness released him when security officers arrived. Mendez was taken away by ambulance.

Myers said the zoo keeps security staff on site 24 hours a day to guard against such incidents. The zoo is inside Roeding Park and homeless people sometimes frequent the area, but Myers noted that the presence of a homeless population is something that occurs throughout the city.

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