Monday 20 January 2020

Friends and colleagues mourn keeper killed by tiger at Florida zoo

Stacey Konwiser had been working with tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo for three years (Palm Beach Post/AP)
Stacey Konwiser had been working with tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo for three years (Palm Beach Post/AP)

Friends and colleagues of a Florida zoo keeper who was attacked and killed by a Malayan tiger met to mourn her death as investigators sought clues as to what led the animal to violently turn on her.

Palm Beach Zoo officials announced the zoo would remained closed over the weekend following the death of Stacey Konwiser, 38, who was killed by the 13-year-old male tiger in an enclosure known as the night house on Friday.

Tigers sleep and are fed in the night house, which is not visible to the public, according to zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter.

On Saturday morning, Ms Konwiser's husband, Jeremy, also a Palm Beach Zoo keeper, read a "note of support" to staff, said Ms Carter, who added that the zoo is trying to establish a memorial fund in her honour.

"This is a very difficult situation for all zoo staff, the Konwiser family and her extended zoo family," said a statement from zoo officials.

Ms Konwiser's death was the first of "a human involved in an animal incident in the 60-year history of the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society," the statement said.

Ms Carter said Ms Konwiser was "efficient and proficient" at her job and, on the afternoon of the attack, she was doing her daily chores.

"This was not out of the norm," said Ms Carter. "What occurred was out of the norm."

She said Ms Konwiser had been working with tigers at the zoo for three years and was passionate about them: "She loved tigers and they loved her."

The tiger was tranquillised and authorities had to wait until the sedative took effect before they could come to Ms Konwiser's aid, West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Lori Colombino said.

It is unclear why the Malayan tiger was not killed, but zoo officials said it is one of only 250 such tigers known to exist in the world.

Ms Carter said the zoo, which has four similar tigers, serves as a "breeding ground to make sure they don't become extinct".

The investigation into the keeper's death is being carried out by West Palm Beach police, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials and by authorities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Animal Legal Defence Fund says the zoo keeper's death was preventable and urged the authorities to impose penalties against the zoo.

"As long as employees are allowed to work in dangerously close proximity to tigers, elephants, and other dangerous animals, a significant risk of serious injury or death persists," the California-based group said.

Since 1990, according to the group, at least 24 deaths- and 265 injuries - were caused by "captive big cats" in the US.

"These attacks, and scenarios where an animal escapes, have also resulted in the deaths of over 128 big cats - many of whom were endangered species," the group said.

PA Media

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