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Trainer Bitten by Panther on Movie Set at Malibu Park

Accident: Woman is recovering after surgery to repair broken ankle. It is unclear why leashed animal attacked her.

October 16, 1997|CLAIRE VITUCCI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An animal trainer was bitten on the ankle by a black panther Wednesday at a movie set in a remote area of Malibu Creek State Park, authorities said.

Sylvie Rodriguez, 46, underwent surgery Wednesday evening at UCLA Medical Center to repair her broken ankle. She was in fair condition, a hospital spokesman said.

Rodriguez was one of five trainers on the set of the movie remake of "Swiss Family Robinson," said John Falk, supervising park ranger of the Angeles District of California State Parks. The production company, Total Films, had a one-day permit to film in the state park's Rock Pool area, about a mile west of the park's entrance on Malibu Canyon Road.

The attack occurred about 1:10 p.m. when the animal, which was on a leash, bit down on the trainer's ankle, breaking the bone.

"The trainer . . . struggled a little bit and the animal bit down a little harder," Falk said. The panther was returned to its cage after the incident, authorities said.

It was not clear what caused the animal to attack, Falk said.

Conditions on the movie set conformed with state laws for filming at state parks, Falk said. Under such laws, all animals are required to have the proper permits from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and must be tethered and surrounded by trainers at all times, Falk said.

Dr. Charles Sedgwick, director of Animal Health Services at the Los Angeles Zoo, said panthers, like other large cats, are predators and have been known to attack animals or children they believe to be prey.

"It's a common experience to have them strike," he said. "It may be a simple biological release or it may be [that they are] irritable. If they see a stranger in their environment . . . they'll think 'this person doesn't belong here' and they're going to react."

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