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Leopard mauls man who paid $150 for 'full contact' experience

The big cat tore off part of Dwight Turner's scalp and chewed his right ear in half, according to an incident report.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
/ Source: TODAY

A Florida man was mauled by a black leopard after he paid $150 for a "full contact" experience that left him with gruesome injuries, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Dwight Turner, 50, was mauled moments after he entered the leopard's cage at an animal sanctuary in Davie, Florida, authorities said. The plan was for Turner to "play with the panther, go inside the panther's cage, rub his belly and take pictures," according to a witness statement from his wife.

While Turner was expecting a fun encounter with the exotic animal when he entered the cage, the cat instead growled at him and gnawed on his scalp and right ear during the Aug. 31 encounter.

Body camera footage from an officer shows the leopard's enclosure.
Body camera footage from an officer shows the leopard's enclosure.Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

"Mrs. Turner stated that she had to place part of Mr. Turner's scalp back in place because it was hanging from his head and his right ear was torn in half," an officer wrote in the incident report. "Mr. Turner was treated at two separate hospitals and required two surgeries to repair his head and ear which resulted in an infection requiring additional treatment. Currently the head wound and ear are being monitored for progression of infection with the possibility of the loss of Mr. Turner's right ear."

Michael Poggi was cited on a misdemeanor charge of allowing full contact with a predatory cat and for maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe condition that injured someone, according to a copy of the citation obtained by TODAY. He told authorities he knew it was illegal to allow a member of the public to have contact with the leopard, according to the report. Poggi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On his Facebook page, Poggi describes himself as an "exotic animal breeder of rare of endangered species and has rescued thousands of exotic animals over the past 35 years."

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that arrangements like this endanger both humans and animals.

“It is far too common for small zoos and quasi-sanctuaries in Florida to sell photo ops, play sessions or other ‘interactions’ with exotic animals,” campaigns coordinator Nick Atwood said. “Both people and animals are put in harm’s way when the public comes into direct contact with captive wild animals.”