A Florida zoo is mourning the death of one of its veteran zookeepers after one of the zoo's rare Malayan tigers suddenly attacked her inside the enclosure Friday.
The Palm Beach Zoo held a news conference Saturday to answer questions concerning the Friday death of Stacey Konwiser, 38, who had been the zoo's "tiger whisperer" for three years, according to WPBF-TV. Konwiser is survived by her husband, Jeremy, who is also an employee at the zoo.
The tragedy occurred when Konwiser was inside the Malayan tigers' enclosure performing last-minute preparations before administering a talk to the zoo's guests, WSVN-TV reported. But shortly before 1:45 p.m., one of the male tigers lashed out and attacked Konwiser. Although the tiger was tranquilized immediately, officers from the West Palm Beach Police Department said that they were forced to wait for the tranquilizer to take effect before they could safely tend to Konwiser.
The zoo was placed on lockdown as its guests were ordered to barricade themselves at a gift shop, WSVN reported. The tiger never escaped from its enclosure during the incident, and Naki Carter, the zoo's spokesperson, maintained that none of the guests was ever "in jeopardy."
"The zoo has a safety protocol in place for crisis situations and these protocols were employed today," Carter said, according to WPBF. "We want to underscore that at no time was the public at any risk. The zoo immediately went into lockdown mode. Guests were never in danger at any time."
After the tiger in question had been tranquilized effectively, Konwiser was airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach where she was later pronounced to be dead.
Malayan tigers are considered to be an endangered species, as only 250 known animals remain in the world. Four of those tigers are kept at the Palm Beach Zoo, according to Fox News. In the midst of the tragedy, Carter emphasized Konwiser's passion for her work and her love for the tigers.
"She is someone that absolutely loved everything that had to do with keeping these tigers and seeing that they were enriched daily," Carter said, according to WSVN. "And I know that just her love for them, if you knew her, then you knew about her love for these creatures."
Konwiser's death is currently under investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as the zoo remains closed through Sunday.
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