A zookeeper has been mauled to death in front of visitors after a tiger “grabbed her by the neck” in an enclosure.
Switzerland’s Zoo Zurich said the 55-year-old woman was fatally mauled by a Siberian tiger on Saturday just before 1.20pm (local time).
Horrified visitors raised the alarm after seeing the tiger attack the female keeper inside the big cat enclosure, prompting staff members to rush to her aid.
They were able to lure the Siberian tiger, named Irina, away from their colleague and out of the enclosure while first responders tried to revive the injured keeper.
“Sadly all help came too late. The woman died at the scene,” Zurich police spokeswoman Judith Hoedl said.
It is believed guests, including a child, saw the horror unfold during a day out at the zoo.
A man who claimed to witness the tragic attack told Swiss news outlet Blick TV it took almost 10 minutes for zoo staff to arrive at the scene.
“The tiger had grabbed the woman by the neck,” he said.
Zoo Zurich said in a statement the woman died at the scene despite resuscitation attempts.
“Exactly how the tragic incident happened and why the animal keeper was in the facility at the same time as the tiger is now being clarified by the responsible public prosecutor, the Zurich City Police, the Zurich Forensic Institute and the Institute of Forensic Medicine,” the statement said.
The zoo confirmed the tiger was back in her usual environment and suggestions the tiger had been sedated were incorrect.
“The incident of Saturday is extremely tragic and [Zoo Zurich] is deeply affected,” the zoo said in the statement.
“Nevertheless, the animal notes that the [Siberian tiger] is a wild animal.
“A person in their facility is an intruder into their territory. In her reaction, she only followed her natural instincts. The incident therefore has no consequences for the animal.”
Zoo Zurich was closed for the remainder of the weekend and will reopen to visitors from Monday. However the area around the tiger enclosure remains closed.
The Siberian tiger was born in 2015 at a zoo in the Danish city of Odense and transferred to Zurich a year ago, according to Zoo Zurich director Severin Dressen. The tiger behaved normally, he said.
“Our full sympathy is with the relatives of the victim,” Dr Dressen said, adding the keeper had been a long-term member of the zoo staff.
Visitors and colleagues who witnessed the attack were receiving psychological counselling.
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