Palm Beach Zoo officials on Thursday released a timeline of a tiger’s fatal attack on a zookeeper and defended the decision to tranquilize the animal, rather than shoot to kill.
It took rescuers at the Florida zoo more than 10 minutes to reach 38-year-old Stacey Konwiser on April 15, according to the timeline.
Sometime after 1 p.m., Konweiser entered the night enclosure where the zoo’s Malayan tigers are kept when they’re not on public display and she must have known the animal was in there, officials said.
At 1:55 p.m. two maintenance workers “heard what sounded like a scream coming from the night house area,” said Palm Beach Zoo CEO Andrew Aiken during a media briefing.
“They rushed to investigate,” he said, and called for help. By 2:03 p.m., the animal was shot with a tranquilizer gun. Aiken said it takes about three minutes for a tranquilizer to work.
When employees reached Konwiser, they reported that there was no pulse, Aiken said.
Officials said earlier in the day Konwiser and a colleague had moved one tiger into the public display area and left another tiger in the night house. They posted a warning sign that read “Animal Access,” indicating the tiger was there.
“Keepers never enter any area to which an animal may have access,” Aiken said.
He said it remains a mystery why Konwiser, who was a “talented and experienced zookeeper,” would enter an enclosure to which a tiger had access without calling another keeper on the radio.
Konwiser was scheduled to give a talk to zoo visitors at 2 p.m. and that may explain why she was in the area.
“She was simply going into the keeper portion, we believe, of the night house to retrieve a bag that has different props that we use for keeper talks,” Aiken said.
He said he is not placing blame on anyone in the case; there are five ongoing investigations of the events.
Aiken justified the use of a tranquilizer gun to put down the tiger instead of using lethal force because the animal stayed close to Konwiser’s body and rescuers feared bullets could hit her.
The animal was siting within inches of Konwiser’s head and “prey guarding, which is a protective position tigers will assume over prey in the wild,” Aiken said.
Tigers a special exhibit at zoo
The Palm Beach Zoo’s four tigers are part of a breeding program to keep the Malayan tigers from becoming extinct. There are fewer than 250 left in the world, officials said.
But that was not the reason the zoo used a tranquilizer instead of bullets, said Aiken.
“The fact that the animal is endangered played no role in the decision-making process,” he said.
On its website, the zoo says it has made changes since the killing, including more training for zookeepers, a review of zoo safety protocols and a two-person system, where two keepers are required at all times when animals are moved.