Tiger maul victim's brother talks of "haunting terror"

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Sarah McClay, Zoo Safari, Sumatran Tiger

Zookeeper Sarah McClay, who was mauled to death by a tiger, must have been terrified as she lay dying in the enclosure, her brother has said.

Stephen McClay, 28, says he is "tortured" by the idea her death was a slow one.

It is 16 months since Mr McClay lost his 24-year-old sister in the attack at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria.

Miss McClay was in a staff area when male tiger, Padang, got in through an open door and dragged her outside into its feeding enclosure, an inquest heard.

She suffered serious head and neck injuries and died hours later in hospital, before her family - mother Fiona, brother Stephen and partner David Shaw - could get to her side.

Image source, Stephen McClay
Image caption,
Stephen McClay said no-one was with his sister when she died

Mr McClay, a French teacher who lives in Hammersmith, London, said: "Nobody was with Sarah when she died, her injuries were so severe she went straight into emergency treatment from the helicopter.

"David and mum arrived at the hospital before she was actually pronounced dead, but they weren't in the room - I can't imagine what they felt like while they were waiting.

"It would have been so tough for the doctors too, they were pretty much on a hiding to nothing, she was in such a bad way. Not many tiger attacks in the UK are there?

"When I think about the manner of Sarah's death, what makes me most upset is thinking about how scared she would have felt.

Image caption,
Sarah McClay's family does not want 10-year-old Padang to be put down and he is still at the zoo

"It's not like dying of an illness when you have time to come to terms with it, or a car crash when you're dead the minute you hit the ground.

"She would have seen a tiger coming towards her, in an area where she thought she was alone. She didn't die instantly so she would have felt every bite or scratch or whatever it did," he said.

To add to the family's shock there was confusion in the immediate aftermath of the mauling as to whether Miss McClay had been in an area where she should not have been.

But early on in the Cumbria Police investigation, it was established Miss McClay was in a permitted staff area and Padang somehow got in through a door which should not have been open.

Becci May, regional manager of tigers and Asian species, for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said tiger attacks on people were rare.

"Normally they run a mile - it can be hard to see a tiger in the wild, they keep out of people's way. A healthy, uninjured tiger will normally hunt on other animals," she said.

"Problems arise if they are injured and cannot hunt."

Business as usual - Julie Cush, BBC News Online

Image caption,
Food is stuck at the top of poles during feeding time at the zoo

Despite the awful death of Sarah McClay, it has been very much business as usual at the massively popular zoo.

It re-opened the day after the tragedy and even with the inquest, plans to treble its size have pressed on.

I visited on an August day, when the temperature soared past 30 degrees and it was packed with visitors.

Animals at the attraction include African lions, Sri Lankan leopards, as well as a boa constrictors.

A crowd-draw is big cat feeding time at the zoo. Staff climb up poles and string up dead chickens to give the big cats a bit of challenging exercise.

Today the crowd is waiting for Padang, unaware he is the tiger who mauled Miss McClay. He prowls around an enclosure while his food is made ready.

When he emerges, he leaps up the pole and grabs his chicken. He has been living at the zoo for almost a decade.

Mr McClay remembers his sister, who was originally from Glasgow, and who had worked as a zookeeper at the park for four years, as a happy, pragmatic woman with "modest dreams" of helping animals.

"She loved her work and all animals - especially red squirrels - and she would have loved to have been in charge of her own conservation project some day."

Following the inquest, the family awaits the outcome of a health and safety investigation by Barrow Borough Council.

The family has always been adamant that Padang should not be harmed.

"I don't feel like I want any kind of retribution against the animal itself," Mr McClay explained.

Image caption,
Sarah McClay had worked at the safari zoo for four years and was a "passionate conservationist"

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