The Palm Beach Zoo is mourning the death of lead zookeeper and tiger conservation activist Stacey Konwiser.
It was originally reported that Stacey died performing a “routine procedure” inside of the tiger night house. However, Palm Beach Zoo CEO Andrew Aiken has recently revealed new details into the zookeeper’s death that indicate that Stacey was mauled to death after failing to follow safety procedures that she created regarding Class I animals.
The death of beloved zookeeper Stacey Konwiser shocked the entire Palm Beach Zoo community. Konwiser was a lead zookeeper who was particularly in love with the Malayan Tigers at the facility. The Palm Beach Zoo is part of the Malayan Tiger breeding program, which is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. The Malayan tiger program at the zoo is aimed at breeding the tigers in a bid to help protect this animal from extinction. It is noted that the tigers do not belong to the zoo, but rather the AZA Species Survival Plan.
Stacey Konwiser, 38, was preparing for a public demonstration at the time of her mauling death. However, zoo CEO Andrew Aiken claims that the knowledgeable zookeeper did something unexplainable when she entered the big cat’s night house the day of her death. It was reported that Stacey entered an area of the night house, the location at which the Malayan tigers eat and sleep, while a tiger was present. Entrance into an enclosure when a tiger is present, or could gain access, is a clear violation of safety protocol at the zoo. Protocol that Aiken notes Stacey was last to update.
In a series of Q&As posted to the Palm Beach Zoo website regarding the tiger mauling, Aiken answers questions about Stacey’s training and actions leading up to her death. One question asked by members of the media was in relation to the zoo’s safety policy for Class I animals. Aiken notes that they have strict safety policies in place and that Konwiser was the last to update the Class I animal safety protocol in January of this year.
“The Class I policy covers the care of tigers. The Tiger Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is in compliance with the standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The SOP was last updated by Lead Keeper Stacey Konwiser in January 2016.”
The zoo CEO says he is struggling to understand why the senior and experienced leader would violate policy and enter the tiger enclosure when the male tiger was present.
“The facts as we know them confirm that one of our most senior and experienced animal experts who was highly qualified and a leader in her zookeeper position, secured a portion of the tiger night house with a tiger in it, and then entered that same portion of the night house after it was clearly designated as accessible by a tiger. Under Palm Beach Zoo policy, Zoo employees are never allowed to enter a tiger enclosure to which the animal has access.”
According to the zoo’s report, Stacey entered the tiger night house when a male tiger had access to the area. This, according to Aiken, violates standard zoo protocol and that Stacey knew the procedure well as she was the one who helped create it.
“Our policy states that zookeepers are never to enter into an enclosure when a tiger is present or has access to the enclosure. When a tiger enclosure is secured so that no tiger can enter, then and only then are zookeepers allowed to enter the enclosure to clean, prepare food, or otherwise service the enclosure.”
Following the horrifying death of Konwiser, the zoo says they are temporarily amending the policy to enforce a two-person rule when entering the tiger night house. The policy will be reviewed further as investigations continue. The zoo has also been questioned over why the male tiger was not put down after the mauling. Zoo officials say instead of killing the animal they decided to use a tranquilizer gun.
While the move has been criticized, with some questioning if the utilization of a tranquilizer caused too long of a delay in emergency response getting to Konwiser, the zoo stands behind their decision. It is noted that numerous factors must be considered when deciding to tranquilizer or “shoot to kill.” One reason that tranquilizing may have been utilized in this case is the close proximity of the tiger to Stacey. Large weapons are needed to put down a tiger humanely, meaning that the shooter would risk shooting the zookeeper when trying to put down the animal. Additionally, with a concrete enclosure with tight walls, bullets could ricochet and hit others in the vicinity.
“We are equipped to tranquilize and we are equipped to shoot to kill. There are a lot of things to consider.”
[Photo via Facebook]