A woman zookeeper referred to as a “tiger whisperer” at the Palm Beach Zoo was attacked by a Malayan tiger Friday and later died of unspecified wounds in what was the first fatality caused by an animal at the zoo, the Palm Beach Post and WPTV reported.
Stacey Konwiser, 38, was performing her typical daily tasks with the tiger in the tiger night house (where tigers are fed and sleep), when the attack occurred outside the view of the public.
The male tiger was shot with a tranquilizer gun and once the dart took effect, officials attended to Konwiser, who was flown by Trauma Hawk to St. Mary’s Medical Center where she died at about 3 p.m. local time.
Konwiser was the lead keeper of the zoo’s four tigers and was preparing for a 2 p.m. Tiger Talk, during which zoo officials answer questions about the Malayan tigers.
“These were daily operating procedures that take place before that Tiger Talk,” Palm Beach Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said. “This is something that Stacey performed daily, was proficient in performing. There was nothing out of the norm as far as what she was conducting at that time.”
Zoo officials said they are not ready to describe what happened as an “attack,” stressing that Konwiser did nothing out of the norm in handling the tiger, the Post reported.
Konwiser, whose husband works at the zoo, had worked at the zoo for three years, was said to be very knowledgeable about tigers and loved them dearly.
“I kind of referred to her as a tiger whisperer,” Carter said. “She spoke a language, they spoke a language, they spoke to each other in a language that only they could understand.”
“And I can’t put into words or make you understand for anyone who didn’t know Stacey how much she loved these tigers and how much this zoo family loved her. And while she’s no longer with us, her memory will live on.”
The SunSentinel reported that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would investigate the death. Grief counselors were at the zoo, which was immediately closed.
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