SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - An employee at Zoo Miami is recovering at home, Wednesday, after being bitten by a tiger during a training exercise on Tuesday afternoon, according to zoo officials.
According to communications director Ron Magill, 20-year-old Emily Mack is a zookeeper that was feeding the 300-pound Sumatran tiger, named Berani, through the fence in a holding area. The tiger then bit the tip of her finger.
“She let a finger slip between the bars, and when that happened, the tiger bit the meat and also bit the tip of her finger,” Magill said. “It was her index finger on her left hand.”
Magill said the bite was 100 percent the zookeeper’s fault. He said the employee broke protocol by hand-feeding the animal. Employees are supposed to put the meat on a stick and feed the tigers through the bars. “The animals are wild animals. Those things happen,” Magill said. “If you’re not on your toes, if you’re not following proper protocol, these things can happen. It’s never the animal’s fault.”
“This cat did not bite maliciously. He was just getting the meat that he was being rewarded for,” said Magill. “She had her finger going with the meat, so when he got the meat, he got the finger also. This was not like [the tiger was] coming at her. That was not the case at all.”
Mack was transported to Jackson South Community Hospital. Zoo officials said she is doing OK. She was later released from the hospital and ordered to recover at home.
Berani was placed in a holding area. The Zoo Miami website describes the large feline as a “laid back tiger, but will occasionally act aggressively toward its keeper.”
Wednesday afternoon, 7News cameras captured Berani back on display. No action is expected to be taken against him.
Officials said no zoo visitors were ever in danger, and the animal was never on the loose.
Visitors still heard the news. “It’s the risk you take by having that job,” said visitor Sarah Mora.
“When you get into this kind of business, you are taking a risk feeding those animals,” said visitor Les Bullard.
Officials said Berani’s bite could have been much worse. The incident comes eight months after a tiger at the Palm Beach Zoo killed zookeeper Stacey Konwiser when, investigators said, she broke the rules by walking into a cage the animal could get into, on April 15.
Magill said following strict protocol with these dangerous animals is critical, and it’s a lesson Mack learned the hard way. “Unfortunately, it did get the tip of her finger, and she is going to have a reminder there for the rest of her life,” Magill said.
Mack will likely not be fired, but Magill said, this is an important lesson for her and for everyone who works at the zoo.
“It’s important for them, in the jobs that they have, to be able to follow the rules and to make sure that they’re safe,” said zoo visitor Dr. Joy Galliford. “Animals are animals.”
The keeper has worked at Zoo Miami for two years.
“Every time a keeper gets hurt here, at the zoo, by an animal, it’s always our fault,” he said. “It’s always human error that leads to that. The bottom line is, these are wild animals. You can take the animal out of the wild. You can’t take the wild out of the animal.”
It is expected that Mack will return to work in a few days after recovering at home.
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