DALLAS — Behind the glass window, it's almost like peering at a giant kitten napping on the porch.
"Oh she loves it. She hasn't stopped being at the window," said Danielle Allen, whose daughter couldn't stop pressing her nose against the glass at the Dallas Zoo in order to look at the lions. "She stopped long enough to eat and she's back over at the window."
But even though they look cute, these lions — which are a part of the Giants of the Savanna exhibit — are wild animals. On this busy Sunday before the first day of school, visitors can see only the two male lions. The zoo's two female lions were removed after one of them attacked a zookeeper on Saturday.
The incident happened outside of public view. The lioness pounced when the worker made what could have been a deadly mistake: He forgot to secure a door inside. He had just seconds to react.
"His training kicked in," said zoo spokeswoman Laurie Holloway.
The keeper had to fire off pepper spray to stop the attack. Keepers always work in teams, and a second keeper was able to distract the lion while the injured employee escaped to safety.
"A mistake can happen to anybody" Holloway said. "But what happens afterward is what matters. He responded perfectly and he responded very quickly."
The lioness was sedated and people were moved out of the exhibit for a short time. The lioness was kept out of the exhibit Sunday only as a precaution.
"This is not an instance of an aggressive cat," Holloway said. "This is not an instance of a hungry cat. She responded like you would expect a cat to respond in this situation."
The zookeeper suffered scratches and a bite wound. He was kept overnight at the hospital.
This was the second high profile attack involving a lion at the Dallas Zoo. Last November, a male lion grabbed a lioness by the head and suffocated her while guests watched. But visitors on Sunday were confident the zoo handled the incidents properly.
"It happens. Everyone has their mood swings, animals too," Allen said. "It just kind of got him at the wrong moment, I guess."
Holloway said both female lions will likely return to the exhibit sometime midweek. The zookeeper, she said, is resting at home and the zoo hopes he can return to work soon.