The fate of a tiger that killed a keeper at Hamerton Zoo Park in Cambridgeshire is to be determined by the zoo, police said on Wednesday. The keeper, Rosa King, died at the zoo on Monday after the tiger entered the enclosure where she was working in what the zoo described as a “freak accident”.
Cambridgeshire police initially referred the case to the local authority that granted the zoo’s licence, Huntingdonshire district council, but have now confirmed that the two bodies are carrying out a joint investigation.
Ch Insp Donna Wass said: “While there are no suspicious circumstances, the death of the zookeeper is still unexplained and the police have a duty to report to the coroner, which is why the police investigation is ongoing. Huntingdonshire district council have a responsibility for health and safety and licensing at the zoo, and are investigating these aspects.”
The force said the animal was unharmed, adding: “The zoo will make a decision about the future of the tiger.”
Hamerton Zoo Park, which remains closed, released a statement on Wednesday expressing its deepest condolences to the family and friends of King, 33, describing her as an invaluable and highly respected member of its team. It said it was cooperating fully with the council’s environmental health department but made no mention of the tiger.
Tributes to the keeper, described as the “shining light” of the zoo, were led by her mother. “She wouldn’t have done anything else. It’s what she has always done. It’s what she has always loved,” Andrea King said.
Nicola O’Brien, campaigns director at the Captive Animals Protection Society, urged the zoo not to kill the animal. “You cannot blame a wild animal for doing what it does naturally. It shouldn’t have been in that position. It’s just horrific that a member of staff got killed on Monday.”
An online petition urging the zoo not to kill the tiger, because it had done “only as its instinct tells it”, had gained more than 1,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums said zoos were required to have procedures in place to guard public safety, “which may include euthanasia of the animal if deemed necessary”.
The Born Free Foundation said the incident highlighted “possible deficiencies in the current zoo licensing regime” and the need for a full-time, independent and centralised zoo inspectorate.
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: “We do not have any say about this tiger’s future, but we really hope that she will not be put to sleep.”
Another tiger that killed a zookeeper in 2013 at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, was spared after the attack. The family of the 24-year-old victim, Sarah McClay, said she would not have wanted the animal, named Padang, destroyed.
Padang remained at the park until 2016 when he was euthanised for reasons of old age and health. The zoo was fined almost £255,000 for health and safety breaches connected to McClay’s death after it was found that the Sumatran tiger had escaped through an unlocked gate.
Hamerton Zoo Park had been told to review and replace ageing safety barriers “where the structural integrity of the barrier was compromised” after a 2013 inspection, the Telegraph reported. The news group quoted the report as saying: “Inspectors consider that reliance on mobiles to communicate in an emergency is not sufficient and the system needs to be upgraded to ensure that all relevant staff can be contacted simultaneously.”
Distressed staff are said to have thrown meat into the enclosure in a desperate attempt to help King during the incident on Monday. 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 and entice the tiger away.”