Tiger FAQ

As we continue to mourn the loss of our friend and colleague, Stacey Konwiser, The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has created this page to provide information involving the April 15 accident. The Zoo will continue to update this page with the facts and is extremely appreciative of your support.

The Medical Examiner’s report states that Stacey Konwiser used her handheld radio to make a call for help as she was being attacked. Is this accurate?

None of the individuals interviewed by the Zoo ever heard Stacey make a call on her handheld radio seeking help in this accident. The first radio call came from maintenance staff who, while working within 100-feet of the night house, heard an audible scream.

The Medical Examiner’s report refers to a “black box” in Den 4, which they claim does not appear in any blueprints. Is this accurate?

According to the drawings on file with the city of West Palm Beach, Den 4 was designed, in part, as a birthing den. The lower part of two of the walls in the room are partially covered with thick black composite panels with a short overhang which was designed by the experts who constructed the enclosure to create a den-like atmosphere and, when cubs are present, to prevent visual contact between the newborns and other tigers in adjacent dens. These black panels were part of the original design of the night house and have been in place since the tiger night house was constructed. We do not believe that the existence of these panels contributed to this accident.

Did a Zoo maintenance worker see the tiger standing over Stacey Konwiser’s body, as stated in the medical report?

We interviewed every employee who responded to the accident scene. None of our maintenance employees say they observed the tiger standing over Stacey’s body.

Was Stacey Konwiser taking anti-seizure medication?

Federal law prevents the Zoo from commenting on any employee’s medical history.

The report identifies the tiger involved in the attack as “Hati.” Is this accurate?

The Zoo has never identified which of our three male tigers was involved in the attack, and, due to threats made against the animal we will not identity the specific tiger at issue.

What changes have been implemented since April 15, 2016?

  • We’re doing more training with our keepers.
  • We have initiated a two-person system – where two keepers are required any time the tigers move from one location to another.
  • We have begun an immediate review of all the Zoo’s safety protocols and procedures.

 

Is there any indication that Stacey tried to retrieve something in the tiger compartment?

No. We have no indication as to why she entered the tiger enclosure. Stacey was extremely knowledgeable and keenly aware of the strength, stealth and quickness of a mature Malayan tiger.

Did she close the compartment door behind her or did the compartment door close behind her automatically? In other words, did she lock herself in with the tiger?

The details are still under investigation. However, a zookeeper cannot lock himself or herself into a tiger enclosure because the enclosure doors only lock from the outside.

Was Stacey in crisis at the time of the incident?

The Zoo has no indication of any personal issues affecting Mrs. Konwiser.

Can you cite the particular recommendation by the AZA on how many staffers should deal with apex predators?

The AZA is very clear on how many zookeepers are required to shift, feed or perform other activities – the answer is either one or two people. The Zoo has always been in compliance with AZA regulations.

At the Palm Beach Zoo are employees allowed to enter the tiger enclosure?

Our policy states that zookeepers are never to enter into an enclosure when a tiger is present or has access to the enclosure. When a tiger enclosure is secured so that no tiger can enter, then and only then are zookeepers allowed to enter the enclosure to clean, prepare food, or otherwise service the enclosure.

Since the accident, has the zoo amended its policy for moving tigers within the tiger enclosure?

Existing AZA standards allow for one or two zookeepers to be present when animals are moved between rooms in the night house enclosures. As our entire Zoo family continues to grieve the loss of our beloved colleague, the Zoo has instituted an interim two-person system for moving tigers in the night house. The use of a two person system for moving tigers in the night house is not required by AZA standards.

What is the staffing structure within the animal care division of the Palm Beach Zoo?

We have 33 animal care staff positions, of which 22 are zookeepers.

 Position   Number
 Zookeeper  22 positions, of which 2 are open
 Animal Commissary  3 positions, of which 1 is open
 General Curator  1
 Associate Curators   2
 Veterinarian   2
 Veterinarian Technicians  2
 Record Curator  1
 TOTAL  33

 

Over the last several months we have cared for approximately 550 animals. On a regular basis animals are shifted in and out of the Zoo pursuant to our ongoing work with other institutions associated with the AZA.

What impact has the accident had on attendance at the Zoo?

Attendance dropped over the weekend of April 16 – 17 because we closed for two days following this incident. Weekends and holidays tend to be our busiest days.

Prior to this incident, we were on pace to have a record year. Through the day of the incident, Zoo attendance was 4,362 people ahead of our best ever fiscal year-to-date. Attendance for this fiscal year is projected to exceed 330,000 people. This represents a projected 7,000 person increase over the previous year, which was also a record setting year.

Is the Zoo able to confirm via video surveillance if Stacey Konwiser was alone or if the tiger left its enclosure or the night house during the accident?

Stacey Konwiser was alone when she entered the night house. The Zoo has video monitoring equipment installed in the tiger enclosure where the incident occurred. However, the equipment is only activated for monitoring newborn tiger cubs. We have no cubs at this time, therefore the monitoring equipment was not in use at the time of the accident. As has been reported, the Zoo has been overseeing a successful tiger breeding operation for several years.

The tiger was never outside of its enclosure or the animal containment portion of the night house at any time.

Does the Palm Beach Zoo allow guests to enter its night houses?

For many years, the Zoo has routinely toured Zoo supporters into portions of the night house accessible only to people but adjacent to tiger enclosures. Recently, the Zoo began offering this experience to our general guests and visitors. All such tours are carefully monitored and supervised. No visitors, guests, or staff members are ever allowed to access any night house areas without Zoo keeper supervision. All animal encounters – including the tiger encounter – have been temporarily suspended as staff members experience the grieving process following this incident. We expect to resume all talks, tours, and encounters at the appropriate time, as offering such up close experiences is integral to our mission of inspiring people to act on behalf of wildlife.

Is it still a mystery to the Zoo of how Konwiser died? Or have state/federal authorities not shared their investigative findings with the Zoo?

There is absolutely no mystery as to how Stacey Konwiser died. The question is: why did a deeply talented and experienced Zookeeper, fully aware of the presence of a tiger and knowledgeable of our safety protocols, enter a tiger enclosure into which a tiger had access? There are currently five separate ongoing investigations looking into this question. These investigations involve questioning everyone who can shed light on the facts of the actual event. To date, no findings or reports have been issued.

Do we have a safety policy for Class I animals?

Yes. The Class I policy covers the care of tigers. The Tiger Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is in compliance with the standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The SOP was last updated by Lead Keeper Stacey Konwiser in January 2016.

Did the person who notified 911 follow Zoo policy?

Yes. The Zoo employee was communicating and responding to information that was coming in quickly from a different location within the 23 - acre Zoo. This information was changing and developing while the employee was alerting officials about the Code Red.

What is the Zoo’s Code Red procedure?

Once a Code Red is activated ‘Zoo Base’, a role which functions as a facilitator of internal communication at Palm Beach Zoo, has duties that must be followed. A Code Red assumes the worst-case scenario. This involves, but is not limited to the following duties:

  •       Confirming the number of employee/guests in the Zoo that day;
  •       Communicating with Zoo personnel throughout the whole campus;
  •       Initiating lockdown procedures to coordinate a safe haven for visitors and all employees;
  •       Ensuring first responders are directed to the proper place within the Zoo upon arrival;

Decision to shoot versus tranquilize the animal

The Zoo is equipped to do both. There are several factors involved in using deadly force, including, but not limited to:

  •       Considering the safety of the employees, responders and guests;
  •       Whether a shot that does not endanger human life or safety is possible;
  •       Whether the high-caliber projectile could ricochet;
  •       The configuration of the space

We stand by our decision to tranquilize the tiger involved in the incident on April 15, 2016.

 

The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris Jacksoni) is a critically endangered species native to Southeast Asia, where there are believed to be fewer than 250 mature animals left in the wild. The Palm Beach Zoo is one of 27 North American institutions fighting for its survival through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. This program, which began in 1998 with 10 tigers, currently has 64 tigers, three of them born at the Palm Beach Zoo in 2013. 

Malayan tigers once roamed forests throughout southern and central Malaysia, hunting deer, wild boar and other mammals.  Much of their habitat has been converted to agriculture, especially palm oil production, forcing them into increasing contact with humans and their livestock.  They are also the victims of intensive poaching, as their body parts are prized in traditional medicine.   The Species Survival Plan may well be this magnificent creature’s best chance to avoid extinction.  Though no animals in the program have been released into the wild, it is our hope that one day that will be possible.

The tiger involved in the death of the zookeeper at the Palm Beach Zoo was known, like all tigers, to pose a serious threat to humans.  There has never been blame placed on this animal for its actions, and its future is not in jeopardy.  The tiger belongs to the AZA Species Survival Plan, not to the zoo, and is one of 64 tigers (41 males and 23 females) in the plan. 11 of those tigers (5 males and 6 females) are considered permanent non-breeders. Leaving the SSP breeding population size at only 53 tigers (36 males and 17 females) that are carefully matched to produce cubs with the greatest possible genetic diversity. 

The Palm Beach Zoo’s participation in the Species Survival Plan does more than help protect this animal from extinction.  It also helps our visitors clearly connect to the perils these and other animals face, and gives us an opportunity to educate people about how they can help.

 

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