24 Sep 2015

Zookeeper's death may remain a mystery

1:30 pm on 24 September 2015

Officials have confirmed that a keeper killed by a tiger at Hamilton Zoo should not have been in the animal's enclosure.

Samantha Kudeweh

Samantah Kudeweh was on normal duties at the time of the tiger attack, a Hamilton Council manager said. Photo: Supplied

Samantha Kudeweh died at the scene after being attacked by an 11-year-old male tiger on Sunday. The 43-year-old was a senior member of the zoo's team and had been a zoo keeper for over 20 years.

Hamilton City Council general manager community, Lance Vervoort, said it was still too early to speculate on exactly what happened, but he said Ms Kudeweh was doing normal duties at the time and should not have been in the enclosure.

Oz at Hamilton zoo.

Hamilton Zoo has said the tiger will not be euthanised. Photo: Supplied

"There are some circumstances around Samantha's death which may never be known.

"What I can tell you though is that keepers are never meant to be in a big cat enclosure with one of the animals - but essentially she was in an enclosure area where there was a male tiger and that shouldn't have happened."

Mr Vervoot said the zoo had made changes to tiger management by bringing in a second staff member to act as an observer while a keeper was dealing with the animals.

The zoo reopened to the public today but the tiger responsible for the death will not be in any area open to public view. Hamilton Zoo has previously said the tiger, Oz, would not be euthanised.

Mr Vervoort said an incident at the zoo in March 2013 when a staff member found herself in an enclosure with a tiger but was not seriously injured did not involve Ms Kudeweh, and was a different animal and different circumstances.

"Following that incident we immediately made changes to our tiger handling procedures which were signed off by the Ministry for Primary Industries. We are confident the 2013 incident was investigated thoroughly and the correct measures were taken."

Mr Vervoort said there may well be further changes to processes once investigations were complete.

"We are confident that we have robust processes and competent professional staff managing these animals," he said.

Council chief executive Richard Briggs thanked the New Zealand public and people from overseas who had sent messages of condolence and support to the Kudeweh family and to the zoo.

He said the council was looking how the support of the public could be used to realise some of Ms Kudeweh's conservation aims and there is a fund the public can donate to.

Ms Kudeweh's funeral will be held on Monday at the Hamilton Gardens and the zoo will be closed for the day as a mark of respect.