A colleague of a keeper who was mauled to death by a tiger at a zoo told an inquest “you never think it will happen to you.”
Rosa King, 33, was savaged by a Malayan male called Cicip at Hamerton Zoo Park in Cambridgeshire. She died at the scene on May 29 2017.
Her colleague Amy Beardmore told Wednesday’s hearing in Huntingdon that keepers were taught to “always locate them (the tigers) and shut the slides” before entering the enclosure.
A metal sliding gate, raised and lowered on a wire and a series of pulleys that separated the tiger’s paddock from its run, was found to be in the open position after the attack, the inquest heard.
Assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire Nicholas Moss asked Ms Beardmore: “Did any of you think what should you do about keeper error?
“What if one of you got it wrong?”
She replied: “You never think it will happen to you.”
Ms Beardmore said the position of sliding gates would be checked from a service area outside the paddock before a keeper entered, and there was a “perfect” view to locate the tiger.
She described Ms King as a “very good keeper” who was “very safe”.
“She would check the slides and look where the tiger was,” she said, adding that she seemed her normal self on the morning of the attack.
“She was smiling and laughing,” said Ms Beardmore. “We were just talking about the weekend.”
Ms King had gone to clean the viewing windows of the tiger enclosure before the zoo opened to the public at 10am.
Her body was discovered by zoo visitor Frank York at around 11am.
Ms Beardmore said she believed Ms King was attacked before the zoo opened as a wooden gate, to keep the public out of a service area, was left open.
“Rosa would never leave the gate insecure if the public were in the zoo,” she said.
She saw that two gates used for keepers to access the enclosure, the wooden gate and a metal protective gate to keep the tiger in, were both found to be open after the incident.
Mr Moss said: “At that stage you know Cicip was in that area and you know that both of the gates were open and so apart from anything else there’s a risk of the tiger getting out.”
“Yes,” replied Ms Beardmore, adding: “I ran there as quickly as I could.”
She said she closed both gates, the zoo was evacuated, a senior keeper fetched a dart gun and others threw food to distract the tiger.
Keepers eventually managed to entice it into a safe area.
Ms King had been helping with night feeds to rear a serval kitten, a small African cat, in the preceding weeks but Ms Beardmore said 3am feeds had stopped around May 22, a week before the attack.
She said Ms King did not complain of tiredness on the day of the attack.
Ms King’s mother Andrea King, who asked to be recalled to the witness stand to give evidence about the kitten, said her daughter was “excited about the hand-rearing” and was “one of those people who could get up and go back to sleep very quickly”.