A zookeeper screamed for help into her radio before she was fatally attacked by a Malayan tiger, but the 350-pound animal crushed her neck before her co-workers could reach her, an autopsy report released Friday showed.
The Palm Beach County medical examiner determined that Stacey Konwiser, 38, died of a fractured spine, a lacerated jugular and other neck injuries suffered when she was attacked on April 15 by the tiger named Hati.
The male tiger, then 12 years old, had been at the zoo for two years on loan from the zoo in Fort Worth, Texas.
Konwiser had entered the tigers’ night house, an area where they eat and sleep that is not visible to the public, to prepare for a presentation.
The report by medical examiner investigator Aleita J. Kinman says the tiger’s cage was supposed to be locked, but it was open, and Konwiser’s view of the animal may have been blocked by a large box inside the enclosure.
Hearing her screams, Konwiser’s co-workers rushed to the tiger exhibit and found the tiger standing over her body.
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 before shooting him with a tranquilizer dart. Paramedics were able to reach her 17 minutes after the attack. 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.
Zoo officials didn’t immediately return a call Friday seeking comment. Investigative reports on the attack by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are pending.
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.