9 Jun 2016

Council pleads guilty over zoo keeper death

3:24 pm on 9 June 2016

Hamilton City Council has pleaded guilty to health and safety charges after a zoo keeper was mauled to death by a tiger.

Samantha Kudeweh, 43, died after she was mauled by a male Sumatran tiger, named Oz, on 20 September last year.

Samantha Lynda Kudeweh

Samantha Kudeweh was mauled by a tiger last year. Photo: Hamilton Zoo website

A senior member of the zoo team, Ms Kudeweh had been a keeper for over 20 years.

The council was charged for failing to take all practical steps to ensure Ms Kudeweh was not exposed to hazards while working with the tiger.

WorkSafe filed the charge, which carries a maximum fine of $250,000, in the Hamilton District Court in March.

After Ms Kudeweh's death, the zoo changed its procedures so a second staff member would act as an observer whenever a keeper was dealing with the animals.

Community general manager for the council Lance Vervoort has previously said Ms Kudeweh had been doing normal duties at the time and was in the tiger's enclosure.

Keepers were never meant to be in the enclosures with the big cats, he said.

He also said there were some circumstances around her death which may never be known.

Hamilton Council chief executive Richard Briggs previously said the tiger had been safely contained in his enclosure.

There were five tigers at the zoo, a male and female in one enclosure, and a female and two cubs in another enclosure.

Mr Briggs said the council acknowledged it failed to take all steps to protect Ms Kudeweh.

"The council's guilty plea today recognises that the practical steps as outlined in the WorkSafe prosecution were not taken, and as a result Sam died. We take responsibility for this."

The 25ha zoo was founded in 1969 in the suburb of Rotokauri and is owned by Hamilton City Council.

Ms Kudeweh grew up in Papakura, and studied at Lincoln University and Auckland University toward a Bachelor of Science before working at Auckland Zoo for several years.

She was married to Richard, who also worked at the zoo, and the couple had two children - Billy and Sage.

Richard Kudewah, the husband of Samantha Kudeweh, the woman killed by a tiger at Hamilton Zoo in 2015.

Richard Kudewah, the husband of Samantha Kudeweh, the woman killed by a tiger at Hamilton Zoo in 2015. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Speaking outside court, Mr Kudewah said the council has been very slow in taking responsibility.

Mr Kudewah said an incident in 2013 when a keeper had a close call with a tiger should have been a major wake up call.

"Every effort at that point should've been made to never have that situation occur again, and it wasn't and Sam was killed."

Mr Kudewah said it had been a very difficult time for the family.

"It's very important that the people responsible owned up and do something about it."

The zoo decided not to euthanise the tiger after Ms Kudeweh's death.