• VIDEO: Visitor recalls woman attacked by wildebeest at zoo

    By: Sarah Rosario


    IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. - The owner of Zootastic told Eyewitness News he's being investigated by the federal government after a woman was attacked by a wildebeest at the zoo in Statesville.

    RAW VIDEO: Moments after wildebeest attacks woman (Warning: Graphic Language)

    A mother who was at the zoo walked Eyewitness News anchor Sarah Rosario through the video and explained why she believes the lives of dozens of people, including children, were in danger.

    In the video you can hear the terror in Linda Hawkins' voice moments after a wildebeest attacked a woman at Zootastic. 

    "I thought it was going to kill her because it kept going after her," Hawkins, a visitor at the zoo, said.

    The animal attacked Kimberly Hillman, the bookkeeper for the drive-thru zoo.

    You can see her holding her stomach after the attack. It happened as she was escorting a mom with kids who showed up late for the wagon ride.

    "It took its horns, lifted her up in the air, it threw her up and she hit the ground and it picked her up again and threw her down again,” Hawkins said.

    The animal that attacked cut her stomach and leg and gave her bruises and a black eye.

    Children screamed as workers tried to take her to a van with the wildebeest charging nearby.

    "That was something really tragic for the kids to witness," Hawkins said.

    “That was a mistake. We should have not taken the people down there,” said Scottie Brown, Zootastic's owner. “We were trying to make the little kids happy. Next time it won't happen. They will just miss the wagon ride.”

    Hawkins said her biggest concern was safety because while workers tended to Hillman, dozens of children were left on the wagon with animals within arms reach.

    Brown said all wagons are USDA approved. When out on a tour, he said that is the safest place to be.

    “The people are in the middle of the park,” he said. “How are you going to take them off of the wagon in the middle of the park with wild animals around?"

    Brown said visitors are told the animals roam free and are instructed not to pet them.

    He said nothing will happen to the wildebeest.

    "It's not his fault,” Brown said. “People are hurt every day. People get bit by dogs. There are car wrecks. It's an accident."

    Hillman spent a week in the hospital recovering from her injuries.

    The Zootastic owner reported the attack to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Over the past year, the USDA inspected the zoo four times and found a total of 11 violations.

    In one case, the inspector documented the wildebeest pen and wrote how a metal post needed to be repaired to provide adequate containment and prevent injury.

    There is no public barrier other than the enclosure fence for some animals.

    Recently a small child was knocked down by a bison hitting the fence even though tour guides were on the premises.

    "This is evidence that the tour guides are not always effective in assuring the safety of the public, since they were unable to prevent this incident," the report stated.

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