PHOENIX -- A wildlife biologist who was never trained about disease risks he could encounter while on the job died from the plague after handling a deceased lion without protective gear, according to a federal report. The report by a National Park Service review board said Eric York, 37, didn't wear gloves or a protective respirator in October 2007 while handling and performing a necropsy on a mountain lion that had died of the plague.
York's supervisors didn't monitor his activities or review job hazards, he was never trained on the potential of catching diseases and the Park Service didn't formally assess the danger he and other workers could encounter on the job, according to the report, released Tuesday.
York worked in the park's cougar collaring program and fell ill days after he used a locator beacon to track a mountain lion that had stopped moving.
He recovered the body, took it to his home at Grand Canyon National Park and did a necropsy in his garage. Several days later, be began feeling ill and went to a clinic.
A physician suspected flu and wasn't told of York's regular exposure to wild animals. The report noted that workers and medical personnel should be trained to ask about possible exposures when seeking or giving medical help.
York was found dead in his home six days after retrieving the dead animal.
Deputy park superintendent Palma Wilson acknowledged Tuesday that the agency made mistakes.
"There were protocols in place, but we were not necessarily ensuring that those protocols and safety standards were being followed," Wilson said.
The report was completed in May, although it was just made public. It recommends a series of changes to ensure worker safety.
"As soon as we got the initial report back from the Board of Review we started implementing those recommendations," Wilson said. "This was a tragic death, but if some good could come from it, it would be that we can get the word out, we can get the safety protocols out so that no one else has to go through this."
An average of 13 plague cases are reported in the United States each year.