Report: Zookeeper didn’t have pepper spray when attacked

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida zookeeper killed by a tiger violated safety rules by not ensuring the animal was locked up before entering its pen and by not carrying pepper spray, a state investigation concluded.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also said in its report released Monday that the Palm Beach Zoo violated no state regulations that led to the April 15 death of Stacey Konwiser and that all of the gates in the tiger house were operating properly.

Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said in an email that the zoo appreciates the FWC’s diligence and professionalism. She said the zoo continues to cooperate with the remaining agencies investigating this accident.

Konwiser, 38 and an experienced keeper, had entered the tiger house to prepare for a presentation. The report says a warning sign on the door showed the 12-year-old Malayan tiger named Hati wasn’t locked up, but for an unknown reason Konwiser entered anyway.

Zoo policy required that she carry pepper spray on her belt for self-defense, but she didn’t have any, the report says.

Konwiser’s screams caused co-workers to run to the pen where they found the 300-pound tiger standing over her body. Her neck had been crushed and her jugular severed, according to a recent autopsy report.

Zoo officials have defended their decision not to shoot the rare tiger, saying they feared a bullet could strike Konwiser or further enrage Hati if it didn’t kill him instantly.

Instead, they tried unsuccessfully to lure him into a cage with food before shooting him with a tranquilizer dart. Paramedics reached Konwiser 17 minutes after the attack and found she had no pulse. She was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.

No cameras were operating in the area of the attack. Officials have said they are only used to monitor breeding efforts, so were turned off.

There are only about 300 adult Malayan tigers in the wild and they are considered endangered.

Konwiser had worked at the Palm Beach Zoo for three years after working at the Palm Springs, California, zoo.

Konwiser had given notice that she had accepted a job with the Food and Drug Administration, but the zoo had offered to match her salary and give her new responsibilities in an effort to keep her. She had not given a decision. Her husband, Jeremy, is a Palm Beach Zoo employee.

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