Argentine zookeeper dies after anteater attack

BUENOS AIRES Thu Apr 12, 2007 5:09pm EDT

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A young Argentine zookeeper who worked on a giant anteater conservation project died on Thursday after she was attacked by an anteater who mauled her abdomen and legs with its sharp front claws.

"Her injuries were very serious and when she was admitted she was already in critical condition," Jose Potito, director of the hospital, told Reuters.

Potito said Melisa Casco, 19, died after an operation to amputate one of her legs.

Casco worked at the Florencio Varela zoo outside Buenos Aires as part of a conservation and reproduction project involving endangered giant anteaters.

The zoo was closed on Thursday and not available for comment but a zoo worker on Wednesday described the attack as an accident.

Zoo workers told local media they did not see Tuesday's attack on Casco. Different reports said the anteater was male, or female, and may have been protecting offspring or was in heat.

Anteaters, which can measure up to 9.2 feet long and weigh as much as 110 pounds (50 kg), are native to Latin America and have toothless snouts.

They are usually not aggressive, but their long, knife-like claws can do serious damage to predators when they defend themselves.

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