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Woman pets caged lion and loses finger; woman to sue zoo for not stopping her

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A Michigan woman plans to file a lawsuit against Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park in Iosco County because she says they failed to stop her from sticking her hand into the lion's cage, where the temperamental lion simply snapped off one of her fingers. Renae Ferguson says the exotic animals zoo did nothing to properly protect her, the Christian Post reported August 1, while the zoo is maintaining that the opposite is true.

Renae Ferguson, who was visiting Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park with her daughter, says that that she was just petting the lion when it suddenly turned and snapped off her middle finger. She told WNEM in Saginaw she was allowed inside the cage by a zookeeper.

"I was totally in shock. I really didn't believe that was part of my finger laying on the ground," Ferguson told the news station.

Ferguson and her daughter, Tina Dobson, claim that not only were they allowed inside the cage, but the owner's of the exotic animals menagerie tried to get them to keep quiet about the incident.

"They just told me not to tell. They told me to lie," Ferguson said. So she plans on suing the zoo.

According to Michigan Live, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which certifies animal parks like Sunrise, is now looking into the matter as well.

However, the owners of the zoo say that Renae Ferguson has exaggerated the story and how her injury occurred. According to James and Barbara Svoboda, owners and operators of the menagerie, Renae Ferguson never set foot inside the cage.

"She was not in the cage. If she had been in the cage, there would not be a woman," James Svoboda told Michigan Live. "It would not be a finger nip, it would have been an arm."

Svoboda said Ferguson entered the security fence that surrounds the African lion, whose name is Damba. Still, he explained, it is designed to keep people out. However, numerous signs within the zoo warn visitors about the presence of large predators and alert them to not attempt to pet the animals. Svoboda said his granddaughter had entered through the gate in the security fence and Ferguson simply followed behind her. Even though she was warned to "stay back," Svoboda said his granddaughter quoted the woman as saying, "I just got to touch this lion."

"She wasn't invited in, she wasn't brought in," the owner said. He added that he is the only one who ever enters Damba's cage, and only when the lion is secured in his barn. "Never is anyone in contact with that lion."

He noted that he and his family and their employees know what they're doing. In fact, the Svoboda's have been operating their exotic animal zoo for 40 years. They operate the facility on donations alone.

The Svobodas plan to retain a lawyer to deal with any legal issues that might arise from the Renae Ferguson flap.

Although Ferguson told WNEM she plans to sue, it is as yet unclear if she will carry through with the threat. Still, she says she has learned a valuable lesson about petting wild animals.

"They are beautiful, but don't do it."

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