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A tiger attacked and killed a zookeeper at Florida’s Palm Beach Zoo Friday, park officials said.
Stacey Konwiser, a tiger expert at the zoo, died after a male Malayan tiger left her with critical injuries while she was tending to the animal in an enclosure, said Naki Carter, the zoo's public relations manager.
Konwiser, 38, was preparing to feed and clean the tigers when she was attacked, Carter said.
Personnel tranquilized the tiger and then tended to Konwiser, who was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition, according zoo officials. She later succumbed to her wounds.
No zoo guests were at risk, Carter said, as the entire incident happened within the enclosure where the tigers eat and sleep. Zoo staff followed safety protocols for emergency situations, and guests were evacuated from the zoo quickly, according to a statement from the zoo.
The incident marked the first time a person has died from an animal attack in the 60-year history of the Palm Beach Zoo, Carter said.
Konwiser "is someone that absolutely loved everything that had to do with keeping these tigers and seeing that they were enriched daily," Carter said during a news conference.
Konwiser had just passed her three-year anniversary at the zoo and had recently accepted a position with the FDA in hopes of one day working with the Fish & Wildlife Service. But the Palm Beach Zoo was working on creating a new position for the tiger expert in an effort to keep her employed there, according a statement from the zoo.
"This was her specialty, she loved tigers," Carter said. "These keepers don't get into this business without the love for these animals and understanding the danger that's involved," she said.
"We've lost a family member," Carter said, offering condolences to Konwiser's husband, who she said is also a keeper at the zoo.
Konwiser was doing tasks that she performed daily when the attack occurred, Carter said. "There was nothing out of the norm as far as what she was conducting at that time," she said. "A tragic incident occurred."
Grief counselors were called in for staff, and the zoo would be closed through the weekend as West Palm Beach police, Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission and federal safety officials investigated the scene, Carter said. She added that surveillance cameras are set up where the tragedy happened, but she didn’t elaborate on what was caught on video.
Malayan tigers are endangered, and there are less than 340 left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The zoo has three male tigers and one female tiger. The tiger that attacked Konwiser had recovered from the tranquilizer Saturday, the zoo said in a statement.
Palm Beach Zoo staff were working with Konwiser’s family to set up a memorial fund in her honor, according to the statement. “Our focus remains on providing the adequate support for our staff and family members who have been affected by this tragic incident,” said zoo curator Jan Steele.