Florida keeper killed by tiger broke rules when she entered enclosure, zoo says

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Stacey Konwiser (left) an employee at the Palm Beach Zoo was killed by a male Malayan tiger on Friday afternoon. Konwiser's husband Jeremy (right) is also a trainer at the zoo. Photo courtesy Palm Beach Zoo

By Faith Karimi

CNN

(CNN) — A keeper killed by a tiger at a Florida zoo this month broke the rules when she entered the big cat’s enclosure, zoo officials said.

Stacey Konwiser, 38, died after the 13-year-old male Malayan tiger attacked her. She was the lead tiger keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo.

The tiger was tranquilized and remains at the zoo.

The attack happened as Konwiser secured an area where tigers eat and sleep, zoo officials said Friday.

She ” entered that same portion of the night house after it was clearly designated as accessible by a tiger,” said Andrew Aiken, the president of Palm Beach Zoo.

“Under Palm Beach zoo policy, zoo employees are never allowed to enter a tiger enclosure to which the animal has access.”

Threats against the tiger

The rare tiger, one of four at the facility, is held in a contained area where the animals are fed and sleep.

Zoo officials have declined to provide information on the tiger, including its name.

“Identifying the animal only serves to stigmatize and potentially places the tiger in harm’s way,” the zoo said. It said it has received threats against the animal.

Zoo officials have said the tiger was off-exhibit at the time and no guests saw what happened.

Konwiser had worked at the zoo for three years and had a lot of experience with tigers, according to zoo officials.

“This was her specialty,” zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said.

“You don’t get into this business without the love for the animals and understanding the danger that’s involved even more.”

Endangered subspecies

Malayan tigers are a critically endangered subspecies. The Palm Beach Zoo provides a special program in which guests can pay extra to see the tigers.

There are less than 250 left in the world, Carter said. The zoo is part of a breeding program that aims to keep the animals from becoming extinct.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating.

“Why or how this could possibly occur is the subject of five ongoing investigations, including our own,” Aiken said.

Recent attacks by big cats

• In January, a keeper was severely injured at an Australian zoo founded by the late wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin.

• Last September, a keeper was attacked and killed by a a Sumatran tiger at a zoo in Hamilton, New Zealand.

• In June 2015, police shot and killed a white tiger that killed a man in Tbilisi, Georgia, after severe flooding allowed hundreds of wild animals to escape the city zoo.

• In 2013, a 24-year-old woman working at a Northern California animal sanctuary was mauled and killed by a lion.

• In 2007, an escaped Siberian tiger attacked and killed one zoo patron and injured two others in a cafe at the San Francisco Zoo.

• In 2003, a white tiger attacked Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy during a performance in Las Vegas. The tiger lunged at Horn’s neck about halfway through the show and dragged him off stage as audience members watched.

CNN’s Keith Allen and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report

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