TAMPA, Fla. – A volunteer nearly had her arm torn off by a tiger Thursday morning at Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa animal sanctuary owned by Carole Baskin, WTSP-TV reported.
The attack happened around 8 a.m. at 12802 Easy Street in Tampa, according to WFLA-TV.
WTSP-TV said the woman, who has volunteered with the organization for five years, was grabbed by a tiger while reaching her arm into its cage during feeding time, something officials with the nonprofit said is against protocol.
“It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it,” Big Cat Rescue wrote in a statement, according to WTSP-TV. “Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder.”
Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, said in an email to the AP that the volunteer, Candy Couser, 69, was feeding a 3-year-old male tiger named Kimba when she noticed the animal was not in his usual location. Baskin said Couser opened a gate that had been clipped shut but she reached in to unclip it.
“This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate” without assistance, Baskin said. “It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it.”
“Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder,” Baskin added.
Couser was taken to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries after staff and other volunteers at Big Cat Rescue sought to stop the bleeding, Baskin said. Later Thursday, Baskin said Couser’s arm was broken in three places and her shoulder was badly injured but she was able to move her fingers. Surgery was scheduled later in the day.
Kimba, who was brought to the center from a circus, will be placed in quarantine for the next 30 days, but Baskin said the tiger was “just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.” Baskin said Couser did not want Kimba to suffer any consequences for the incident and Baskin said the tiger’s vaccinations, including for rabies, were up to date.
According to the TV station, another worker heard the attack and came running as the tiger dropped its grip. A nurse and another bystander used a belt as a tourniquet to help control the bleeding until an ambulance arrived 15-20 minutes later.
WTSP-TV, citing Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials, said the victim was taken to a hospital with serious injuries.
According to WTSP-TV, the organization said grief counseling will be available to volunteers and staff impacted by the incident.
Baskin became famous from the Netflix show “Tiger King,” which sparked new interest in the decades-old disappearance of her former millionaire husband Don Lewis. She also appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.”
No other details have been released.