Zoo tiger death: Rosa King 'always loved' job, mother says

Media caption,
Rosa King, pictured in 2016, died in a "freak accident"

The mother of zookeeper Rosa King, who died after a tiger entered an enclosure at a Cambridgeshire wildlife park, said her daughter was dedicated to her job and "it's what she had always loved".

Ms King, 33, died at Hamerton Zoo Park, near Huntingdon, at about 11:15 BST on Monday.

Her mother Andrea paid tribute saying "she wouldn't have done anything else, it's what she has always done".

The tiger that killed her has not been put down and was unharmed, police said.

The zoo described the keeper's death as a freak accident.

Cambridgeshire Police confirmed her death was not suspicious and as a result it has handed the case to the coroner. A post-mortem examination is due to be carried out.

Ms King is understood to be from Chippenham, in Wiltshire, and studied for a diploma in animal care at Wiltshire College.

Image source, Hamerton Zoo Park/Facebook
Image caption,
Rosa King looked after the carnivores at the zoo

Her friend Garry Chisholm, a wildlife photographer, said she was the "focal point" and "shining light" of the wildlife park.

Mr Chisholm, 59, of Irchester, Northamptonshire, said: "Rosa wasn't just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo - she was Hamerton Zoo.

Media caption,
Will Travers, from the Born Free Foundation, said that "we have to ask questions about the safety of those who work in zoos"

"She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it.

"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.

"She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her."

'Heard her scream'

Peter Davis, who was at the zoo with his family, said he had heard a "commotion" near the enclosure where Ms King was attacked.

Image caption,
Floral tributes have been left at the gates of the zoo
Image source, Paperpix.uk
Image caption,
The zoo has white Bengal tigers as well as Malayan tigers

"There was a guy at the enclosure where the incident happened and he came running past me. He was taking photographs so he ran off to get some help for something, we didn't know what," he told BBC Radio 5Live.

"The next minute half a dozen zookeepers came running down to the enclosure."

He said he heard one of the zookeepers screaming.

"One of the girls, we just heard her scream. And one of the girls shouted 'run'. So a few of us ran into one of the zookeepers' small rooms by the closure," Mr Davis said.

'Throwing meat'

His group was held there for about 10 minutes until they were given the all clear.

"As we came out, we were sort of ushered further away, but we were still looking at what was going on, and you could obviously see the keepers all distressed, not really knowing what to do, heads in their hands," Mr Davis continued.

"A couple of them were throwing meat over the enclosure to try and entice the tiger away, but it was going on probably for 10 to 15 minutes."

Image source, Heidi Maury
Image caption,
An air ambulance landed at the wildlife park but there were no other injuries

Visitors were led away from the zoo. At no time did the animal escape from the enclosure, police confirmed.

Tigers in captivity

Image source, Paperpix.uk
Image caption,
It is not yet clear which of the park's tigers attacked the keeper

Wildlife expert Steve Backshall says unlike lions, tigers are solitary creatures that live and hunt alone in the wild.

"In the wild, they'll have enormous home ranges and rarely come into contact with other tigers," he told the BBC.

"And in captivity, quite often they'll be kept in relatively small enclosures with other tigers, and there's no doubt that could cause artificial stresses within those enclosed populations.

"A wild tiger could range over 1500 sq miles (3,885 sq km) - obviously you could never have a zoo that size."

Tributes have flooded in to Ms King on social media.

Philip Caso, a 20-year-old zoology student from Peterborough, who knew her through work experience at the zoo, said he was "literally devastated" and described her as "one of the most inspirational women I knew".

"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."

Photographer Hollie Gordon, who became friends with Ms King through visits to the zoo, said: "Her passion for the animals, the zoo and conservation really shone through.

"I'm 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."

Image caption,
Tributes have been left at the zoo and on social media
Image source, AP
Image caption,
A handwritten sign was placed at the gate when the park was closed on Monday

Hamerton Zoo Park said in a statement: "This appears to have been a freak accident.

"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."

The park, which is currently shut as a result of the attack, said an investigation was under way.

Cambridgeshire Coroner's Office said an inquest into Ms King's death was expected to be carried out next week.

Cambridgeshire Police said the incident would be passed to Huntingdonshire District Council which is responsible for licensing the zoo.

Hamerton Zoo Park

The wildlife park opened in June 1990 and covers 25 acres.

It includes enclosures for Malayan tigers, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, wolves, corsac foxes, kangaroos as well as a variety of birds, reptiles and domestic animals.

The zoo opened a new enclosure for its Malayan tigers in July last year.

In October 2008, a cheetah that escaped from the park was found by a nine-year-old boy in the back garden of his family home.

Four years ago another zookeeper died after being mauled by a tiger. Sarah McClay was attacked by a Sumatran tiger at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria.

The zoo was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court in June last year after the 24-year-old employee's death in May 2013.

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