By Ralph Ellis and Keith Allen
(CNN) — A keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo died Friday afternoon after being attacked by a rare species of tiger, zoo spokesperson Naki Carter said.
Stacey Konwiser, 38, lead keeper at the zoo, was killed by a 13-year-old male Malayan tiger, one of four at the facility, Carter said.
The incident happened about 2 p.m. at the tiger night house, where the animals are fed and sleep for the night, Carter said.
The tiger was off-exhibit at the time and no guests were nearby.
Malayan tigers are a critically endangered species. The Palm Beach Zoo provides a special program in which guests can pay extra to see the tigers.
West Palm Beach police said the tiger was tranquilized and officers waited until the drugs took effect before they could reach the victim, CNN affiliate WPEC reported. Konwiser was taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center.
OSHA will investigate
Carter would not comment about the condition of the tiger except to say it has been contained. The investigation is ongoing and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is taking over.
The zoo was evacuated and will be closed through Saturday, Carter said.
Konwiser’s husband is also a trainer at the zoo and her family has been notified, Carter said.
PETA criticizes zoo
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement criticizing the zoo.
“Today’s incident is only the latest in a long list of fatal maulings around the world, and that list will continue to grow as long as tigers and other exotic animals are locked in cages and compounds for human amusement,” said PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet.
“In nature, tigers have home ranges of hundreds of miles, so it’s no wonder that confining them to small spaces causes them to lash out in the frustration, stress, anxiety and agitation that they suffer when they’re denied their freedom and the ability to behave normally in every way — including choosing their mates, raising their young and seeking privacy from prying eyes.
“PETA sends our condolences to the zookeeper’s family and hopes that this incident will save human lives in the future by making zoos everywhere reconsider the confinement of big cats and other wildlife.”
Other attacks by tigers
Other tiger attacks have occurred recently.
In January, a keeper was severely injured at an Australian zoo founded by the late wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin.
Last September, a keeper was attacked and killed by a a Sumatran tiger at a zoo in Hamilton, New Zealand.
In June 2015, police shot and killed a white tiger that killed a man in Tbilisi, Georgia, after severe flooding allowed hundreds of wild animals to escape the city zoo.
In 2013, a 24-year-old woman working at a Northern California animal sanctuary was mauled and killed by a lion.
In 2007, an escaped Siberian tiger attacked and killed one zoo patron and injured two others Tuesday afternoon in a cafe at the San Francisco Zoo.
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