Commission: Two prior incidents at Palm Beach Zoo

The death of a zookeeper caused by a tiger Friday is not the first time one of the big cats was involved in an incident at the Palm Beach Zoo, according to documents released by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week.

Stacey Konwiser, the 37-year-old lead keeper at the zoo, died at St. Mary’s Medical Center after an encounter with one of three male Malayan tigers in the night house Friday afternoon. What Konwiser was doing in the night house or how she came in close contact with the tiger remained unknown Tuesday night. The tigers are usually brought into the “behind-the-scenes” area to be fed and go to sleep.

But before Konwiser’s death, there were at least two other incidents with tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo.

In May 2011, a 40-year-old maintenance worker entered a restricted area near the tiger exhibit to retrieve a DVD player used to show a video of a tiger cub’s birth during a news conference. He slipped and fell against the mesh cage and one of the tiger’s scratched his back. Investigators said the employee did not notify animal staff he was going to get the device and he had to jump a fence to get to the area. The worker went to the hospital to be treated for cuts and bruises on his back, but did not tell the zoo about the incident until two days later.

The report did not mention the name of the tiger involved.

In February 2008, a tiger nipped the finger of a 25-year-old keeper in the night house while she trained Mata, a nearly 3-year-old cat at the time. Investigators said she was training the tiger to sit, put his paw up and be fed a treat with an open palm when the tiger bit the tip of the middle finger on her right hand.

The zookeeper was taken to the emergency room and held overnight so a hand surgeon could fix her finger. Investigators said the keeper had to have her bone filed and get stitches.

Because of the incident, the zoo was not allowed to feed animals by hand as the protocol was being re-evaluated, according to the report.

“Although this was an accident by the victim, hand feeding has been proven to be a safety hazard,” the investigator wrote.

Several agencies, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, West Palm Beach Police and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, continue to investigate the death of Konwiser. Since her death, the zoo is working with Konwiser’s family to create a fund in her name and friends put together GoFundMe account to help her family immediately.

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