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Panda puts a third victim in hospital after attack at zoo

Staff use tools to pry open animal's jaws after it locks on to the legs of visitor

They might seem cute and cuddly, but one Chinese panda is demonstrating that it is probably best to not get too close. Gu Gu, a 108kg male panda who is one of Beijing Zoo's star attractions, has attacked his third tourist.

This week's unfortunate victim, Zhang Jiao, was assaulted by the animal when he decided to venture into the panda enclosure to recover his five-year-old son's toy.

Gu Gu – who was not amused to find an intruder had jumped over the 1.4m barrier surrounding the exercise area – bit into Mr Zhang's legs and refused to let go. Staff from the zoo eventually managed to free the man by prying open Gu Gu's jaws with tools.

Gu Gu's first taste of human blood came in 2006, when a drunken tourist tried to hug the grumpy creature.

When Gu Gu responded by attacking him, Zhang Xinyan, 35 – who said he had travelled to Beijing "only to see the pandas" – decided to fight back.

"I bit the panda on its back but its fur was too thick," said Mr Zhang. "No one ever said they would bite people. I just wanted to touch it." The next year, Gu Gu also attacked a 15-year-old boy.

A zoo spokeswoman said yesterday that police were investigating the latest incident and that it was not yet apparent whether Mr Zhang would face any charges.

According to The Beijing News, the man from China's Anhui province is recovering from surgery after suffering damage to his major ligaments.

Experts say that despite their sweet public image, pandas are capable of attacking humans, especially if they feel that they are coming under threat. There are believed to be fewer than 2,000 giant pandas living in the wild in China.