• USDA report: Zookeeper killed by tiger did not follow safety protocol

    By: Hannah Winston , Palm Beach Post

    Updated:

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Stacey Konwiser, the lead zookeeper at the Palm Beach Zoo who was killed by a Malayan tiger on April 15, did not follow “established safety procedures,” according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released by the zoo this week.

    The inspection, which was conducted Monday, found at least two issues with the tiger enclosure, including the handling of the tiger and sanitation. The report did not detail what the 37-year-old Konwiser did that failed to follow safety procedures.

    The zoo previously said that Konwiser knowingly went into the cage while a tiger was inside, which is prohibited, but whether she entered on purpose is still unknown, zoo President and CEO Andrew Aiken told the media in April. A former colleague of Konwiser's told The Palm Beach Post that the zoo’s story didn’t add up and that Konwiser would never put herself in danger.

    In addition to Konwiser not following safety procedures on the day she was killed, shooting the tiger with a dart caused the animal to undergo “behavioral stress, unnecessary discomfort and potential harm” and prevented first responders from getting to Konwiser, the USDA said.

    Aiken previously said the tiger was “prey guarding” — a protective position that tigers take over prey in the wild — Konwiser’s body so zoo officials decided not to shoot to kill because they might have hit her. The medical examiner said Konwiser died of a neck injury.

    The USDA also found a problem with sanitation around the tiger enclosure. Investigators found tree-limb cuttings and other miscellaneous items piled along the keeper access area between the fences of the enclosure.

    “These cuttings need to be cleared from this area to prevent a keeper from possibly falling against the fencing of the tiger enclosure,” investigators wrote in the one-page report.

    Aiken previously said that there are still questions surrounding the death, some of which may never be answered.

    Investigations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, West Palm Beach police, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture remain open.

    OSHA said there’s no timeline for when its investigation will be complete, but the scope of the investigation is beyond just the tiger incident.

    “Inspectors are looking at all areas of the zoo in regards to safety and health compliance. They are not just focusing on the tiger cage or any single area,” spokeswoman Lindsay Williams wrote in an email.

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