WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A South Florida zookeeper killed by a tiger violated safety rules by not ensuring the animal was locked up before entering its pen and by not carrying pepper spray, a state investigation concluded.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also said in its report released Monday that the Palm Beach Zoo violated no state regulations that led to the April 15 death of Stacey Konwiser and that all of the gates in the tiger house were operating properly.
Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said in an email that the zoo appreciates the FWC's diligence and professionalism. She said the zoo continues to cooperate with the remaining agencies investigating this accident.
Konwiser, 37 and an experienced keeper, had entered the tiger house to prepare for a presentation. The report said a warning sign on the door showed the 12-year-old Malayan tiger named Hati wasn't locked up, but for an unknown reason Konwiser entered anyway.
Zoo policy required that she carry pepper spray on her belt for self-defense, but she didn't have any, the report said.
Konwiser's screams caused co-workers to run to the pen, where they found the 300-pound tiger standing over her body. Her neck had been crushed and her jugular severed, according to a recent autopsy report.
Zoo employees Shaman Davis and Shawn Marsh were the first to arrive after the attack. They called for help, and zookeeper Chelsea Riley unsuccessfully tried to lure the tiger out of the room with food, away from Konwiser.
A tranquilizer dart was ultimately used to subdue the tiger. Hati went into another room after being tranquilized, and Riley closed the chute door to contain the tiger so that paramedics could tend to Konwiser.
Andrew Aiken, president and chief executive officer of the Palm Beach Zoo, defended the decision not to shoot the endangered tiger.
"The decision to use a tranquilizer dart verse shooting the animal was also made during a crisis situation, using the best information available to us at the time," Aiken said in a statement. "So we are clear, if this were the last animal of its kind and a human life were in danger, we would kill the animal if it were the right decision."
Aiken said there was a concern that, if the shot missed, the bullet could ricochet and hit Konwiser or someone else. He said there was "no guarantee" that shooting Hati would kill the tiger.
"It is possible that you could only wound the animal, angering it and creating additional and unnecessary risk to Stacey," Aiken said.
Paramedics reached Konwiser 17 minutes after the attack. She was flown to St. Mary's Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Konwiser had worked at the Palm Beach Zoo for three years after working at the Palm Springs, California, zoo. She had given notice that she had accepted a job with the Food and Drug Administration, but the zoo had offered to match her salary and give her new responsibilities in an effort to keep her. She had not given a decision. Her husband is a Palm Beach Zoo employee.