A Malayan tiger attacked and killed a veteran keeper Friday afternoon at a South Florida zoo, officials said.
Stacey Konwiser, 38, was killed by the 13-year-old male tiger in an enclosure known as the night house that is not visible to the public, Palm Beach Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said. It's where the tigers sleep and are fed.
The tiger was tranquilized and authorities had to wait until the sedative took effect before they could come to Konwiser's aid, West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Lori Colombino said.
Media reports said guests were herded into the gift shop for a short time out of an abundance of caution. Police also confirmed that the tiger was in a contained area and guests were not at risk.
"At no time was any guest or visitor in danger. At no time was any animal loose," Carter said.
The zoo said it will remain closed throughout the weekend.
Zoo officials said Konwiser's husband was also a zoo keeper there. Grief counselors had been sent in for the staff, and zoo officials said they were reaching out to Konwiser's family members, who live out of state. They declined to comment on whether there had been other incidents with the tiger.
Zoo staff said Konwiser was an expert at handling the tigers and was passionate about protecting the endangered species.
"I referred to her as a tiger whisperer, they spoke a language with her only they could understand," Carter said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said they planned to investigate. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was also investigating.
Police said Konwiser was doing daily tasks with the tiger when she was injured.
The Palm Beach Zoo released the following statement:
"It is with great sadness the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society mourns the loss of our Lead Keeper Stacey Konwiser. The entire Palm Beach Zoo family is saddened beyond what words can describe at this incident and tragic outcome.
While this is an active and ongoing investigation, we can confirm that at approximately 2 p.m. today, Konwiser was involved in an incident with one of our male Malayan tigers. This incident occurred off exhibit, in the tiger night house, which is in the back of the tiger exhibit where the public does not have access.
We want to underscore that at no time was the public at any risk. We also want to emphasize that at no time did any animal escape. The Zoo has a safety protocol in place for crisis situations and these protocols were employed today. Immediately after the Code Red was issued guests, who were never in any danger, were ushered out of the Zoo in an orderly fashion and the Zoo went into lockdown.
West Palm Beach Police Department and West Palm Beach Fire Department EMS responded to the scene. A number of investigations remain ongoing.
This marks the first death of a human involved in an animal incident in the history of Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. Grief counselors remain available to Zoo staff affected by this tragic incident. Our focus remains on providing the adequate support for our staff and family members who have been affected by this tragic incident.
This is a very difficult situation for all Zoo staff, family members of Konwiser, her family and the extended Zoo family. We ask the media and public to respect the privacy of those involved during this difficult time.
The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society will remain closed throughout the weekend, and we will provide you updates as we receive new information from officials."