Popular zoo ambassador pulled off of rotation after biting a child

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) Caught on camera: It was a scary moment for one Michiana mother after her toddler got on the bad side of a zoo animal.

She sent us the video of the encounter.

A birthday party at the Potawatomi Zoo got a little out of hand when Copper, the 4-year-old African Serval and ambassador animal, decided it wasn't the time to be touched.

"Space is very important, just like we have our personal space, they have theirs and that's why we have those protocols," Potawatomi Zoo Executive Director Marcy Dean said. "One person at a time, one touch at a time, on the back, away from the mouth."

Although you normally wouldn't think of an African Serval as a house pet, the zoo says copper has a lot more in common with a house cat than they do the other jungle cats in their exhibits.

"Copper was hand-raised," Dean said. "Brought here when he was 6-months-old to be an education animal. So he has literally been with people his entire life. He has done thousands of interactions with people here at the zoo, all ages, infants on up. And this has never happened before."

But it did happen. And though Copper may normally be more like a house cat, he is much bigger. By swatting at the toddler, copper ended up causing some minor scratches on the boy's head, but things could have been worse.

"Until further notice, Copper, our African Serval, has actually been pulled off all interactive programming until we can find out exactly what happened and make a plan to move forward."

Right now, Copper's fate with the ambassador program is still unknown, as the events on video are still being investigated. The zoo says it would be hard to retire him from the program.

"He is our most popular animal and is most popular in terms of requests," Dean said. "So we'll have to weigh that in our decision as well. Because, like I said, this one time incident doesn't necessarily mean from the zoo's standpoint that we would be pulling him off permanently, but we've got to look at all our options and, of course, guest safety."

Even after the video, the zoo believes this was just a one-time accident.

If Copper doesn't come back to the ambassador program, the zoo would keep him as an off-exhibit animal.