A keeper who was mauled to death by a tiger at a zoo appeared to have been trying to leave the enclosure after cleaning its viewing windows when she was attacked, an inquest has heard.
Rosa King, 33, was savaged by a Malayan male called Cicip at Hamerton Zoo Park in Cambridgeshire.
She sustained traumatic injuries and died at the scene on May 29 2017, Tuesday’s inquest hearing in Huntingdon was told.
Head keeper Katherine Adams said she believed Ms King was trying to leave the paddock when she was attacked.
“Where the (cleaning) bucket and everything were, it looked like she was just about at the gate,” she said.
She said Ms King was “very safety conscious” but the inquest was told that she may have been tired after helping with night feeds for a serval kitten, a small African cat.
Ms Adams said Ms King was on duty at the tiger enclosure the previous night and may have left open a vertical metal sliding gate designed to ensure staff and tigers were not in the paddock at the same time.
But Ms King was working alone, Ms Adams said, adding: “There’s only one person who knows (what happened).”
Two gates used for keepers to access the enclosure, one wooden and one metal, were also found to be open immediately after the attack.
Ms Adams said the wooden gate was to stop the public from walking into the keepers’ area, adding: “It wouldn’t stop a tiger from getting out,even if it was closed.”
Assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire Nicholas Moss, asking about the metal gate, said: “The fact that gate was open - would there be any reason other than you were going through it at that time?”
Ms Adams replied: “No.”
She said the protocol was for a keeper to locate the tiger and ensure it was isolated before entering the enclosure.
“The system was fool proof,” she said.
“It just never entered our heads that it would go wrong.
“If you carried out the protocol and went through every step then you should never put yourself into the situation where you and a cat should be in the same section.”
Asked by Mr Moss if there was any reason a keeper would enter the paddock while the sliding gate was open, she said: “No, you just wouldn’t.”
She said Ms King was “very safety conscious” and “she knew the risks”.
Fighting back tears, she added: “She wasn’t just a work colleague; she was my best friend.”
Ms King was sharing duties to care for a serval kitten at the time together with Ms Adams and fellow keeper Amy Beardmore, Ms Adams said.
This involved feeding the animal every three hours at its peak, including through the night, and was unpaid voluntary work that did not count as overtime, Ms Adams said.
Mr Moss asked: “Did Rosa say anything to you in relation to this kitten at any stage about tiredness resulting from taking care of the kitten?”
Ms Adams replied: “No, not to me, no.”
Reading a witness statement from Ms Beardmore, Mr Moss said that “a few times... Rosa did say that she was tired”.
Ms Adams said that if she had known Ms King was tired: “She wouldn’t have had it (the kitten) as many nights.
“We would have taken some more nights off her.”
She added: “I’ve never had any worries about Rosa and safety procedures.
“She knew exactly what she was doing.”
Ms Adams said the zoo has since introduced a system where a tiger keeper entering the enclosure goes through procedures with a colleague over a handheld radio as they complete each task.
The inquest continues.