Florida zookeeper Stacey Konwiser, 38, died this past Friday, April 15, after sustaining fatal injuries caused by a tiger attack.
The lead tiger caretaker of the Palm Beach Zoo was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida shortly after the incident. Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Michael Bell determined that Konwiser died from neck injuries inflicted during the attack.
According to the New York Times, Konwiser was attacked by a 13-year-old male Malaysian tiger in an enclosure known as the night house, where the zoo’s tigers sleep and are fed. The tigers were not visible to the public at the time of the attack.
“No guests or visitors were ever in jeopardy,” Naki Carter, a zoo spokeswoman, told WSVN-TV. Nonetheless, guests were told to barricade themselves in the zoo’s gift shop as an extra measure of safety.
The Palm Beach Zoo has also come under fire for its decision to tranquilize rather than shoot the tiger. Zoo officials confirmed via a statement on the Palm Beach Zoo website that the tiger involved in the fatal accident will remain there. The Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday that the tiger that killed Konwiser is a breeder named Hati, one of four at the zoo and one of only 250 Malayans in existence.
The zoo has received a number of complaints and threats voicing support of euthanizing the tiger.
David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, told The Palm Beach Post that, “tigers typically attack the neck and head area. It’s hard to tell, however, whether the tiger pounced in a predator-on-prey manner, playfully, or in defense. This makes it difficult to decide whether to shoot and kill the cat or tranquilize it in the event of an attack on a human. If the animal is in fact on top of a person in an attack, you risk shooting the person being attacked if you decide to use lethal force.”
The incident marked the first time a person has died from an animal attack in the 60-year history of the Palm Beach Zoo. In the history of the zoo there had only been three other incidents involving employees and animals, and none of them were fatal, Carter added in a statement.
Naki Carter announced at a news conference Wednesday the creation of the “Stacey Konwiser Tiger Conservation Fund” which will include scholarships for zookeepers as well as the renaming of the zoo’s annual “Save the Tigers” 5K race in Konwiser’s honor.