Stacy Konwiser was the head tiger keeper at the zoo in Palm Beach. She was skilled and experienced and knew all of the protocols required for handling the tigers safely and vets in fleet. Nonetheless, she was attacked and killed by a tiger in an area that was clearly marked as being open to tigers. This was an area known as the tiger night house.
While many recent cases of people and animals being injured or killed in zoos have been caused by lack of safety precautions, this was not the case here. The Palm Beach Zoo is vigilant in establishing and following effective safety standards and protocols. One such rule is that no handler or keeper is allowed to enter areas of active tiger access. The bottom line is that Ms Konwiser simply shouldn’t have been inside of that enclosure.
Anyone who has ever had the experience of being able to view tigers “up-close-and-personal” (as any zoo keeper has) knows that they are massively huge, extremely powerful and can be quite deadly. When touring the zookeepers’ access areas in a San Diego tiger sanctuary, I had one jump up against a chain link fence as I passed by just on the other side. It was a humbling (and terrifying) experience, to say the least.
No one knows why Ms. Konwiser entered the tiger enclosure. She certainly knew of both the protocol and the inherent danger of entering an area where a tiger was roaming freely. We can only assume that she mistakenly thought the tiger was not able to enter the enclosure or that she simply experienced a lapse in judgment.
When the attack occurred, there was other keepers present and they attempted to save Ms Konwiser. The tiger was sedated with tranquillizer darts. This decision was made for several reasons:
1. Use of lethal bullets could have endangered Ms Konwiser and others due to the likelihood of ricochets.
2. The rare Malaysian tiger is one of just 250 remaining worldwide.
3. The tiger was not agitated or unusually aggressive. Its response to an intruder into its area was normal behaviour.
While some may criticise the decision not to kill the tiger, the fact is Ms Konwiser would likely have made the same decision if she were in the place of those who came to her rescue. Because the tiger was not exhibiting unusual behaviour and the incident would not have taken place had protocol been followed, there are no plans to euthanise the animal.
This sombre incident should be a reminder to people who encounter obvious danger on a daily basis, as well as to the rest of us going about our routine, safe, everyday lives. Very often, we make careless decisions and trust to luck to keep us safe; even though, we know we are taking a risk. Ms Konwiser may have thought she would be safe just stepping into the tiger night house for a moment, just one time; however, that proved to be untrue.
Remember that rules are in place for a reason, and if you bend them by driving without your seatbelt, texting while driving, failing to lock your house doors and gates and so forth, you actually take your life in your hands.
When you go along practising these unsafe habits for quite a while with no consequences, you become more and more cavalier about it. Sooner or later it will catch up with you. Unfortunately, in many cases when one person disregards safety rules, many people end up paying the price. One bad decision can cost a life.