Described by her colleagues as a “shining light,” Rosa King, a zookeeper at Hamerton Zoo Park in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in the UK, died after a tiger entered an enclosure she was working in on Monday and attacked her.
According to Cambridgeshire Police, the incident, deemed a “freak accident” by park officials, is “not believed to be suspicious.” The zoo nevertheless has begun its own investigation into what happened.
“At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures and at no point was public safety affected in any way,” a zoo spokesperson said in a statement after the accident. “All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time.”
Park-goers were quickly evacuated before keepers realized the tiger had not escaped, but many visitors recalled hearing a disturbance near the enclosure where the attack took place.
“There’s no doubting it was a girl’s scream and something terrible had happened,” Pete Davis, on a visit with his family at the zoo, told the Telegraph. “It sounds like a tiger turned on her.”
Recalling that she ducked into a nearby office amid the ruckus, Victoria Holmes told CNN she could see fellow handlers making their way to the accident.
“We could see staff members on the other side of the fence with pieces of meat trying to get [the tiger’s] attention. It was heartbreaking seeing them trying to help.”
One visitor made it a point to note how staff members were “a real credit” to the zoo as they managed the evacuation.
“Staff were calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner — no running, shouting or anything similar,” Cambridgeshire visitor Jeff Knott told Press Association.
Responding to the growing fear on Twitter surrounding what would happen to the tiger, the Cambridgeshire Constabulary announced that the cat in question was believed to fine.
The park, closed until further notice, houses Malaysian tigers, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, wolves, corsac foxes and kangaroos, as well as a variety of birds, reptiles and domestic animals.
The last time Hamerton Zoo made headlines was when one of its three-year-old cheetahs escaped its enclosure, and was later found by a then-nine-year-old boy in his backyard. Officials blamed a faulty electrical fence for that incident.
It is not known how the tiger ended up in the enclosure with King.