No faults with gates at tiger paddock after big cat killed keeper at Hamerton Zoo, inquest told

Rosa King
Rosa King

An investigation revealed there were no faults with the gates at the tiger paddock where a big cat killed a zoo keeper at Hamerton Zoo, an inquest has heard.

Rosa King, (33), was cleaning the windows of the tiger enclosure when she was attacked by a Malayan male called Cicip at Hamerton Zoo Park near Sawtry.

She died at the scene on May 29 2017, Monday’s inquest in Huntingdon was told.

Nicholas Moss, Cambridgeshire’s assistant coroner, said that immediately after the attack two gates and a metal vertical slide, designed to ensure staff and tigers were not in the paddock at the same time, were found to have been open.

The slide was raised and lowered by wires attached to a system of pulleys.

The two gates were used by keepers to access the paddock, one made of wood and one metal, Mr Moss said.

“We’re going to need to explore how that happened and what the reason for that was,” he said.

Mr Moss said a police investigation “suggested there was not any mechanical fault with the gates and slides”.

The inquest will hear evidence about the system used to ensure staff could not enter the paddock when tigers were present and whether that system “allowed protection against human error by the zookeeper who was in the tiger area”, Mr Moss said.

The inquest heard Ms King worked 45 hours a week during the summer months and also worked some overtime.

Zoo founder Andrew Swales said the park opened in 1990 and its first tigers arrived in 2001.

He said “everybody” at the zoo, including Ms King, helped design the new tiger enclosure between 2014 and 2016.

“All of our decisions were made from the ground up,” he said.

Questioned by Dominic Kay QC, representing the zoo, Mr Swales said the onus was always on staff to check an area before entering it.

“No-one works under the assumption that what someone might have done is OK,” Mr Swales said. “You always have to double-check yourself.”

He said the zoo had more than 100,000 visitors the year before Ms King’s death.

Ms King, who was working alone at the time of the incident, entered the enclosure shortly before the zoo opened to the public at 10am.

The male tiger Cicip “would tend to urinate on the windows during the day so they need to be cleaned so the public have a good view”, Mr Moss said.

Frank York, a visitor to the zoo, saw her body from the viewing area and raised the alarm.

Keepers fetched the zoo’s tranquiliser gun, while armed firearms officers and paramedics attended.

Neither the tranquiliser nor police firearms were used.

Mr Moss said keepers “were able to entice Cicip back into his run and the slide was closed behind him to make the area safe again”.

He added: “It had been apparent from as soon as Rosa was seen that she had died.”

Her death was formally pronounced at 11.46am, with her many injuries including lacerations and puncture wounds.

Her parents Peter and Andrea King listened to coroner Mr Moss open the inquest on Monday.

Mrs King, wiping tears from her eyes, said in evidence it was clear from the age of two that her daughter would end up working with animals.

She described her as “knowledgeable about all the animals in her care”, adding: “She followed her dreams and it wasn’t very often you wouldn’t see her with a smile on her face.”

Ms King, who worked at the zoo for 13 years, did not express concerns about working conditions, her mother said.

“She thought two people working together wasn’t as safe as it would be easier to become complacent,” she said.

The hearing, listed for two weeks, continues.