A keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo died Friday afternoon after being attacked by a rare kind of tiger, zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said.
Stacey Konwiser, 38, lead tiger keeper at the zoo, was killed by a 13-year-old male Malayan tiger, one of four at the facility, in the contained area where the animals are fed and sleep, Carter said.
Zoo officials said it didn’t appear Konwiser did anything out of the norm as she worked in the enclosure, known as the tiger night house, and prepared to talk with zoo visitors about the animals in a “Tiger Talk.”
The tiger was off-exhibit at the time and no guests could see what happened, Carter said. The tiger was never on the loose, contrary to early reports on social media, she said.
West Palm Beach police said the tiger was tranquilized and officers waited until the drugs took effect before they could reach the victim, CNN affiliate WPEC reported. Konwiser was taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center.
‘A tiger whisperer’
Konwiser had worked three years at the zoo and was very experienced with tigers, Carter said. Her husband, Jeremy Konwiser, is also a trainer at the zoo.
“This was her specialty,” she said. “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 had a special bond with the big cats, Carter told the Palm Beach Post.
“I kind of referred to her as a tiger whisperer,” she said. “They spoke to each other in a language that only they could understand. 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. And while she’s no longer with us, her memory will live on.”
Konwiser graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in biology and received her master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Queensland in Australia, the Palm Beach Zoo’s official Facebook page said