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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A New Zealand zookeeper was killed by a Sumatran tiger on Sunday morning when the zoo was open to visitors.
Police said they were called to the Hamilton Zoo at 11 a.m. (local time) after reports that a female zookeeper had been attacked by one of the zoo's five tigers. Police said the woman died at the scene.
The zoo asked all visitors to leave and said it was closing its doors until Thursday. Authorities are investigating to determine exactly what happened.
Zoo visitor Adam Rich told The New Zealand Herald newspaper that he saw the tigers Sunday morning and noticed a female zookeeper opening a gate to allow them access to an outdoor enclosure.
He said about 45 minutes to one hour later, zoo staff approached him and asked him to leave. He said they were offering everyone a refund.
"They seemed a bit panicky," he told the newspaper. "I thought an animal had escaped but they guaranteed that an animal did not escape."
Council spokesman Jeff Neems said the tiger that attacked the woman is named Oz and is the zoo's only adult male tiger.
He said Oz was currently safely contained inside his enclosure. He said he had no comment on whether the animal would be put down.
He said the public was never in danger during the incident and that all animals had remained contained in their enclosures.
"Our focus at this time is on providing the adequate support for our staff and family members who have been affected by this tragic incident," the Hamilton Council, which runs the zoo, said in a statement.The council would not comment on what went wrong until all investigations had been completed, the statement added.
Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered, with less than 400 of the tiger subspecies still living in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.