Female Zoo Worker Killed In Tiger Attack

Female Zoo Worker Killed In Tiger Attack

A zoo owner has described how he desperately tried to stop a tiger mauling a female worker who died hours later from her injuires.

Sarah McClay, 24, was in the big cat enclosure when she was attacked by a tiger at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness on Friday afternoon.

She was taken by air ambulance to Royal Preston Hospital immediately after the incident, but she had been so badly injured, she died four hours later.

Zoo owner David Gill told Sky News he was on the scene within seconds and tried to shoot the tiger but was unable to because Ms McClay was within his line of sight.

Describing the terrible sequence of events he said: "A scream was heard over the radio and then an emergency message was given that a tiger had got a keeper.

"I dropped everything and so did my colleagues who were working with me and we ran flat out to the tiger enclosure and we were very close. We were there within 30 seconds.

"It was immediately apparent that a tiger had a person. There was no movement or anything.

"We immediately broke out firearms - the animal manager broke out firearms - and within two minutes we had firearms on scene.

"But sadly we could not get a clean shot to do anything about it, because of where the animal was.

"So we did our best and moved around to find a shot and then very, very quickly I let off two shots because I couldn't get to where I needed to be, and it did what it needed to do, which was to lift them off and they ran back into the house and the other keepers locked them up.

"And so, once we knew we were absolutely safe and secure, we went into the enclosure to recover Sarah."

Ms McClay was from the Barrow-in-Furness area. Cumbria police are investigating what happened.

Insp Matt Pearman said: "She did suffer some serious injuries; particularly neck and head injuries which proved to be fatal.

"Sarah's family have been informed. Quite clearly they are very shocked, very distressed by this episode and have requested to be given some time to come to terms with their loss."

The animal that carried out the attack was a Sumatran tiger. The park's website says it keeps both Amur (Siberian) and Sumatran tigers.

Mr Gill said Ms McClay had worked with big cats at the wildlife park for 15 months and was said to be "very proficient".

The incident happened at about 4pm on Friday, when staff were working as normal and the park was open to the public.

Just before the attack, Ms McClay had been taking part in Big Cat Feeding Time with the jaguars at the zoo.

One member of the public is understood to have witnessed the attack and around five staff. The zoo has arranged counselling for those who saw it.

Police said they are keen to find out which members of staff and members of the public witnessed the incident.

Officers are also understood to be keen to find out what safety procedures were in place.

The zoo has told Sky News that it has very stringent rules in place to control access to the tigers.

Keepers are only allowed into the enclosure when the tigers have been moved into a separate 'house' and the gate between them locked shut.

Mr Gill said: "I want to express my deepest sympathy to Sarah's family and friends because its an absolutely tragic event that's happened here.

"The investigations that have taken place so far seem to have shown a tragic error of judgement and not following the safety protocols as they are written and somehow or other managing to open up the tiger enclosure and walk straight in with the tigers and of course the tigers take over then and instinct kicks in. That's how the tragedy happened."

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said: "The death of Sarah McClay has shaken the community, everyone's thoughts and prayers will be with her family and her friends and colleagues at the animal park."

"I hope the rigorous investigation that is now necessary will be carried out as soon as possible to strengthen safety at this local institution."

The zoo has said none of the tigers will be on display to the public on Saturday but the zoo itself will remain open.


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