Tiger kills zookeeper: Should Palm Beach Zoo have shot tiger to save colleague? Pro and con

Tigers are back on display Monday, April 18, 2016, at the Palm Beach Zoo, which reopened today after the fatal attack on Friday on zookeeper Stacey Feige Konwiser. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Tigers are back on display at the Palm Beach Zoo. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

It’s disturbing to learn that workers at the Palm Beach Zoo, seeing a colleague severely injured by a tiger, waited for a tranquilizer to take effect — rather than shooting and killing the animal so that paramedics could get to her right away.

Until more facts of the Friday incident are released, we won’t know how long first responders had to wait before they could enter the “night house” where Stacey Feige Konwiser lay after being mauled by a 300-pound Malay tiger. Once paramedics did reach the 37-year-0ld veteran zookeeper, they called in an air rescue helicopter to take her to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Zoos, of course, must be devoted to the welfare of the animals in their care. But when a human life is at stake — if there is any possibility of saving that life — it seems a seriously misplaced priority to put an animal’s life first. The only way this delay could have been defensible would be if it were clear upon sight that Konwiser’s injuries were fatal.

The zoo has a lot of questions to answer here.

— Howard Goodman

Stacey Konwiser at the dedication of the new tiger habitat at the Palm Beach Zoo on March 7, 2015 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Brianna Soukup / Palm Beach Post)

Stacey Konwiser at the dedication of the new tiger habitat at the Palm Beach Zoo on March 7, 2015 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Brianna Soukup / Palm Beach Post)

Shooting the Malayan tiger would have been wrong.

That’s not to say that one life is more important than another. Far from it. But the tiger was likely acting and responding as a tiger would, and putting blame on him for behaving as tigers behave naturally wouldn’t have been the right course either.

Stacey Feige Konwiser clearly loved her “very personable boys,” the tigers that she carefully looked after at the Zoo, and anyone who is that close to an animal knows the potential risk involved. Animals, from the rescued cuddly domestic kitten to the Malayan tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo, can be personable, playful and loving, but they are animals. Even being spooked could cause a fatal yet unintended accident. They should not be blamed for acting on their natural instincts, and I have to believe that someone who cared for these tigers as Konwiser did would feel the same way.

By the same token, the Zoo — thankfully — has never had to deal with a situation like this in its 60-year history, and the reality of such an attack likely differs from simulations. Rescue workers should not have had to wait for a tranquilizer to take effect to attend to Konwiser. Were the emergency protocols in place the right ones to efficiently handle the situation for the best possible outcome?

Let the Zoo learn from this tragedy and carry on caring for these tigers that Stacey loved so much.

— Kristyn Wellesley