Stacey Konwiser, a veteran zookeeper called ‘The Tiger Whisperer,’ was killed Friday at Florida’s Palm Beach Zoo by one of the big cats she cared for every work day.
“They spoke to each other in a language that only they could understand,” said grieving zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter. “I can’t put into words, or make you understand for anyone who didn’t know Stacey, how much she loved these tigers and how much this zoo family loved her.”
Stacey Konwiser and her husband, Jeremy, both worked at the Palm Beach Zoo. (Facebook)
Konwiser, 38, was rushed by helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center, but died there from her wounds, the Palm Beach Post reported.
She was the lead zookeeper in charge of the facility’s three male and one female Malaysian tigers. Konwiser was killed by one of the males, Carter said. It was not known what provoked the animal.
Workers shot the big cat with a tranquilizer gun, but had to wait for the drug to take effect before rescuing Konwiser.
One of the zoo's four, rare Malaysian tigers is seen here. (Palm Beach Zoo/Facebook)
She was severely bitten as she prepared the rare animals for the zoo’s “Tiger Talk” show for patrons. Officials said she did “nothing out of the norm” in handling the tigers, the paper reported.
“Stacey was an expert. She dedicated her life to her mission of protecting this species,” Carter said.
Her husband, Jeremy, also works at the zoo, but in a different area. The couple, who had been together for 10 years, did not have children, Carter said. The spokeswoman would not say if the husband was working Friday.
The zoo was closed after Konwiser was bitten, but reopened Monday as several local, state and federal agencies investigated what led to Friday's attack.
The incident happened in the tigers’ “night house,” where they sleep and are fed. Visitors cannot see inside the enclosure, Carter said.
Patrons were escorted out after she was attacked and were never in any danger, Carter said.
“We’re all doubled over,” she said. “This is the death of a family member.”
The tiger involved in the fatal attack will remain at the zoo, where he is part of an ongoing breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, officials said Monday.
The animal is one of about 250 Malayan tigers in existence. Four Malayan tigers currently live at Palm Beach Zoo.
Konwiser's death was the first human fatality in the 60-year history of the facility, authorities said.
“As a family we will remember Stacey and move forward with the work in which she dedicated her life,” Carter said.