Zookeeper Stacey Konwiser was tragically killed by a 13-year-old male Malayan tiger around 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The tiger, one of four living at the Palm Beach Zoo in Florida, attacked the woman inside a contained area where the animal normally eats and sleeps.
Zoo officials have confirmed that 38-year-old Konwiser was performing some very routine tasks while in the habitat, known as the tiger night house, when she received a “severe bite.” The tiger was not in an area where zoo visitors could see what was happening nor was the public in any danger.
The tiger was tranquilized, but officers with the West Pam Beach Police Department were unable to reach Konwiser until the sedative took effect. The fatally injured zookeeper was rushed by helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center where she died about an hour later.
“This was her specialty,” said zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter. “She loved tigers. You don’t get into this business without the love for the animals and understanding the danger that’s involved even more.”
Konwiser was very experienced with Malayan tigers and often referred to as the “tiger whisperer.” She had been working at the zoo for the past three years alongside her husband, Jeremy Konwiser, who is also a trainer.
Jeremy and Stacey met 10 years ago while working at another zoo in Palm Desert, California. The veteran zookeeper’s family has been notified of her death and it is unclear whether her husband was at the zoo at the time of the attack.
“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,” Carter said. “And while she’s no longer with us, her memory will live on.”
Konwiser earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mount Holyoke College and also graduated from Australia’s University of Queensland with a master’s in conservation biology. She was the zoo’s lead zookeeper for both tigers and koalas.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, a zookeeper was killed by a Sumatran tiger at the Hamilton Zoo in New Zealand last year. The tiger, named Oz, attacked the female zookeeper shortly after she entered the animal’s enclosure.
Malayan tigers are extremely rare and are in critical danger of extinction. According to zoo officials, there are less than 250 left in the world, and the Palm Beach Zoo is participating in a breeding program to help increase the population. The zoo also has a show designed to teach visitors about the animal which Konwiser and the tigers were a major part of.
Carter did not confirm the condition of the tiger but did say the animal was contained. While the zoo is trying to determine exactly why the animal attacked, officials would not say if there had been any previous problems with the tiger. Additionally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened up their own investigations into the incident.
“The zoo has a safety protocol in place for crisis situations and these protocols were employed today,” Carter said. “Immediately after the Code Red was issued guests, who were never in any danger, were ushered out of the Zoo in an orderly fashion and the zoo went into lockdown.”
Several zoo employees verified that all 500-plus animals were accounted for. This is the first time in Palm Beach Zoo’s history that a death like this has ever happened, Carter added.
After Stacey Konwiser was attacked, about 25 zoo visitors were escorted into the gift shop and then told the zoo was closing for the day. Pending investigations, the Palm Beach Zoo will remain closed at least through Saturday and grief counselors are available for staff members.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]