Cambridgeshire zookeeper killed by tiger was a 'shining light'

Rosa King’s mother says keeper had always loved working at Hamerton Zoo Park, which remains closed after death

Friends and family of a zookeeper killed by a tiger have paid tribute to an “inspirational” woman who was the “shining light” of the Cambridgeshire zoo where she worked.

Rosa King, 33, died at Hamerton Zoo Park near Huntingdon on Monday after a tiger entered the enclosure where she was working.

A witness reported seeing staff throwing meat into the enclosure in a desperate attempt to distract the tiger during the incident.

King had worked at the zoo for about 14 years, her mother Andrea said. “She wouldn’t have done anything else – it’s what she has always done. It’s what she has always loved.”

The Daily Telegraph reported that inspectors from Huntingdonshire district council had criticised Hamerton zoo’s emergency procedures in a 2013 report. However, it is thought the zoo complied with the recommendations needed for it to be granted a new licence to operate.

The council has opened an investigation into the cause of the tragedy. One theory is that a steel safety barrier to separate tigers and staff either malfunctioned or was left open due to human error.

An inquest also will be opened next week.

Meanwhile, a charity has called for a centralised system of inspectors to monitor an estimated 430 big cats kept in Britain’s zoos in the wake of King’s death.

Chris Draper from the Born Free Foundation said there was no centralised database, nor any lists of species or individual animals in captivity in the UK.

Individual local authorities were responsible for licensing, which he said was the “real weakness in the system”.

He added: “There needs to be an active centralised list and moreover there needs to be a full-time centralised system of inspectors.”

Garry Chisholm, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew King through visiting the zoo, said: “Rosa wasn’t just a keeper at Hamerton zoo – she was Hamerton zoo.

“She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it. It revolved around her.”

Philip Caso, a 20-year-old zoology student from Peterborough, got to know King through doing work experience at the zoo each summer and commended her conservation efforts.

In a tribute on Facebook, he wrote: “I’m literally devastated to hear that one of the most inspirational women I knew died at Hamerton zoo.

“Rosa loved and respected those animals to the point where each and every one was like a child to her. Her passion for her job has really inspired me and I was just glad I got the chance to know her. Thinking of all the other keepers.”

Photographer Hollie Gordon, who said she had become friends with King through visits to the zoo, said: “Her passion for the animals, the zoo and conservation really shone through. She loved them all.”

The 24-year-old from Blackpool added: “I am in shock over what has happened. Terribly upset and can’t quite believe I won’t see her again with a big smile on her face and working with her beloved cats.”

The zoo was closed on Tuesday while an investigation was conducted.

The zoo had said on Monday: “We are sorry but our staff are too distressed to speak directly to the media as one of our colleagues was killed this morning. This appears to be a freak accident.

“A full investigation is currently under way and we hope that more details can be announced as soon as possible. At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures and at no point was public safety affected in any way.

“All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time.”

Speaking on Monday, Chisholm, 59, said of King: “Her passion for the animals in her care was exceptional, though her favourites were undoubtedly the cheetahs, which she would refer to as her pride and joy.

“I feel privileged to have known Rosa and to have been able to call her a friend. She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her.

“The only consolation I can take from today’s tragic events is that Rosa is now reunited with her beloved Ares the cheetah, and Blizzard and Ladybelle, her beloved tigers.”

Jeff Knott, 32, from Cambridgeshire, was visiting the zoo on Monday. He said staff had been a real credit during the evacuation.

“We had been in the zoo since about 10.30am and heard or seen nothing until asked to leave about 11.45am,” he said.

“Staff were very calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner – no running, shouting or anything similar.”

One witness, Pete Davis, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “You could obviously see the keepers were all distressed and, you know, not really knowing what to do, heads in their hands. A couple of them were throwing meat over the enclosure to try to entice the tiger away.”

Police said King’s death was not believed to be suspicious.


Alice Ross and agency

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rosa King: Cambridgeshire zookeeper killed by tiger is named
Hamerton Zoo Park says investigation under way and stresses that at no point did any animals escape their enclosures

Alice Ross and Kevin Rawlinson

30, May, 2017 @2:06 AM

Article image
Zookeeper killed by tiger 'would have wanted animal to live'
Director of Cambridgeshire zoo where Rosa King was killed last month said her family support decision to let rare Malayan tiger live

Frances Perraudin

15, Jun, 2017 @12:02 PM

Article image
Cambridgeshire zoo will decide fate of tiger that killed keeper, police say
Police say they are now investigating death of 33-year-old Rosa King at Hamerton Zoo Park in conjunction with district council

Haroon Siddique

31, May, 2017 @11:20 PM

Article image
Chester zoo hails birth of rare Malayan tapir as ‘important moment’
Female calf named Nessa will help efforts to protect species, of which fewer than 2,500 remain in the wild

Robyn Vinter

09, Dec, 2022 @2:05 PM

Article image
Waiting for Flaviu: Dartmoor zoo takes softly-softly approach to missing lynx
There is no panic among Dartmoor team over wild-cat runaway – they know where he is, and it’s a matter of luring him back

Steven Morris

15, Jul, 2016 @11:05 AM

Article image
Police to visit UK zoos and wildlife parks after rhino killing in France
Britain’s wildlife crime head says urgent security checks are needed to protect 111 rhinos in UK after attack near Paris

Caroline Davies

08, Mar, 2017 @4:43 PM

Article image
Gorilla recaptured after escape at London zoo
Animal reportedly shot with tranquiliser dart after zoo said it was ‘managing an incident’

Kevin Rawlinson and agencies

13, Oct, 2016 @5:52 PM

Article image
Lynx on the loose after breaking out of Dartmoor zoo
Search is under way for two-year-old male Flaviu, who chewed through the wall of his enclosure hours after arriving at zoo

Steven Morris and Damien Gayle

07, Jul, 2016 @6:18 PM

Article image
Whipsnade zoo ‘ecstatic’ at birth of endangered red panda twins
UK conservation zoo says cubs give hope for species facing illegal trading and habitat loss in the wild

Sammy Gecsoyler

02, Aug, 2023 @12:06 PM

Article image
Chester zoo mansion where tiger cubs once prowled reopens
Major restoration now complete of home of George Mottershead who created a ‘zoo without bars’

Maev Kennedy

05, Aug, 2018 @5:17 PM