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Posted: April 16, 2016

Zookeeper killed by tiger was leaving zoo for new job

By John Pacenti

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —

Stacey Konwiser, the zookeeper killed Friday by a tiger at the Palm Beach Zoo, had worked there for three years but was planning to leave. She had taken a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to zoo officials.

“Konwiser had recently accepted a position with the FDA, looking at long-term career progression to get into U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. We were in the process of crafting another position to retain her,” Palm Beach Zoo General Curator Jan Steele said in a written statement Saturday morning.

>>Tiger kills handler at Florida zoo

The male Malayan tiger that killed Konwiser remains at the Palm Beach Zoo and is recovering from the tranquilizer administered after the encounter, zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said at a news conference Saturday.

Carter declined to say which of the zoo’s three male Malayan tigers killed Konwiser, known as the “tiger whisperer.”

>>More on Konwiser, the tiger whisperer

The zoo will be closed through the weekend and remains under active investigation by West Palm Beach police as well as OSHA and the FWC, Carter said. The zoo is not commenting on whether Konwiser was alone in the tiger’s “night house” when the attack took place.

Carter also would not say whether the tiger exhibit will remain open at the zoo or if they will euthanize the tiger.

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Funeral arrangements are being made and the zoo is working with Konwiser’s family to set up a fund in her memory, Carter said.

An animal rights group is calling for federal authorities to impose the maximum penalties on the Palm Beach Zoo following the death of the zookeeper.

The details on how Konwiser died are still a matter of speculation. She was in the tiger’s enclosed area, dubbed the “night house,” that is not visible to the public when the bite occurred. Zoo officials initially said Konwiser had done nothing wrong, but it remains unknown if she was having direct contact with the 300-pound male tiger or if the area somehow was breached by the tiger.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund called upon the OSHA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite its investigation and impose a penalty that would “ensure an end to these preventable deaths in zoos.” The group has previously called upon OSHA to enact specific standards governing workplace safety for employees who work with dangerous wild animals.

“As long as employees are allowed to work in dangerously close proximity to tigers, elephants, and other dangerous animals, a significant risk of serious injury or death persists,” a statement from the group read.

The animal rights group says Konwiser’s death could have been prevented with appropriate safety measures. The group headquartered near San Francisco focuses on litigation to stop animal abuse — whether it involves companion animals, factory farming or the entertainment business.

Since 1990 there have been at least 24 deaths—and 265 injuries—caused by captive big cats in the United States resulting in the deaths of over 128 big cats—many of whom were endangered species, the group stated.

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