A zookeeper killed by a tiger on Monday has been described as the “shining light” of the Cambridgeshire zoo where she worked.
Rosa King, 33, died at Hamerton Zoo Park near Huntingdon after a tiger entered the enclosure where she was working.
King had worked at the zoo for about 14 years, her mother Andrea said. “She wouldn’t have done anything else; it’s what she has always done. It’s what she has always loved.”
A friend said she was a lovely lady who was passionate about animals.
Garry Chisholm, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew King through visiting the zoo, said: “Rosa wasn’t just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo – she was Hamerton Zoo. She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it. It revolved around her.”
Police and the Magpas air ambulance service were called to the attraction at 11.15am on Monday and visitors were asked to leave the site. The zoo said it would remain closed on Tuesday while an investigation was conducted.
The zoo said on Monday: “We are sorry but our staff are too distressed to speak directly to the media as one of our colleagues was killed this morning. This appears to be a freak accident.
“A full investigation is currently under way and we hope that more details can be announced as soon as possible. At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures and at no point was public safety affected in any way.
“All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time.”
Speaking on Monday, Chisholm, 59, said of King: “Her passion for the animals in her care was exceptional, though her favourites were undoubtedly the cheetahs, which she would refer to as her pride and joy.
“I feel privileged to have known Rosa and been able to call her a friend. She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her. The only consolation I can take from today’s tragic events is that Rosa is now reunited with her beloved Ares the cheetah, and Blizzard and Ladybelle, her beloved tigers.”
Jeff Knott, 32, from Cambridgeshire, was visiting the zoo on Monday. He said staff had been a real credit during the evacuation.
“We had been in the zoo since about 10.30am and heard or seen nothing until asked to leave about 11.45am,” he said. “Staff were very calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner – no running, shouting or anything similar.”
Police said King’s death was “not believed to be suspicious” and that the tiger involved was “believed to be fine”.
Steve Backshall, host of the BBC nature programme Deadly 60, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Protocols about how tigers are dealt with in captivity are incredibly stringent, because this is a very large and always potentially dangerous animal.
“When they’re fed, when their enclosure is cleaned, the animals are always taken away into a separate enclosure and clearly something has gone wrong with that process.”
Tigers experience an “artificial situation” in captivity, he said. “In the wild they’ll have enormous home ranges, they’ll very rarely come into contact with other tigers. In captivity, quite often they’ll be kept in relatively small enclosures with other tigers, and there’s no doubt that can cause artificial stresses within that enclosed population.”
Asked by the Today presenter, John Humphrys, whether it was cruel to keep tigers in zoos, Backshall said tigers were a big draw and helped to inspire visitors – particularly young people – about nature.