Dragon's bite brings zoo a box office boost

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The Independent US

Los Angeles Zoo may be squirming with embarrassment over the recent close encounter between Sharon Stone's husband and a giant Komodo dragon lizard, but the incident has also proved to be a fund-raising boost. Benefactors are pledging hundreds of thousands of dollars to the zoo ­ including a cool quarter of a million ­ to provide the offending animal with a spanking new habitat.

Tickets for the annual Beastly Ball held over the weekend sold out fast, and donors seemed more than keen to volunteer for exactly the sort of nose-to-nose time with the animals that nearly lost Phil Bronstein, la Stone's newspaper editor husband, his left big toe.

"The zoo has just had so much press this week," said a spokeswoman, Lora LaMarca. "We got more calls than ever from people wanting to attend the ball." Three groups paid $6,000 (£4,200) each for a private audience with the elephants, and other donors forked out slightly lower amounts for behind-the-scenes visits to the Sumatran tigers and alpacas.

At the zoo, as in Hollywood, it seems biting the hand that feeds you is not always such a bad idea. As the zoo's director, Manuel Mollinedo, told ball-goers: "It's amazing how many calls I've gotten from ladies trying to arrange behind-the-scenes tours with the Komodo dragons for their husbands."

Mr Bronstein was on a top-dollar private tour of his own when the 7ft Komodo dragon began to eye his white shoes with interest. Told the animal might have thought the shoes were tasty rats, Mr Bronstein removed them, to his almost instant regret. He is now in a cast with two severed tendons.

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