Volunteer seriously injured by tiger at Big Cat Rescue undergoing surgery, arm broken in 3 places

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A volunteer at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa will be undergoing surgery “soon” after she was seriously injured Thursday morning when a tiger she was feeding grabbed her arm and “nearly tore it off at the shoulder,” according to the non-profit organization.

An update on Big Cat Rescue’s website said volunteer Candy Couser’s husband told organization officials that she will be “going into surgery soon.” Her husband also said Candy can “move her fingers and her arm is broken in three places.”

The non-profit mentioned Candy is conscious but sedated.

According to Big Cat Rescue, Kimba the tiger’s rabies and other vaccines were all up to date but he is being kept in quarantine for 30 days so sanctuary officials can keep an eye on him.

Kimba (Photo provided by Big Cat Rescue)

“While it’s our understanding that the CDC could demand he be killed and tested for rabies, that’s unlikely given the fact that he’s vaccinated and Candy does not want him to be killed for doing what comes naturally,” the organization said.

According to Carole Baskin, the animal activist who owns Big Cat Rescue, the incident happened around 8:30 a.m. when Candy saw the tiger was locked in a section away from where he was usually fed and opened a guillotine door at one end of the tunnel.

“When she went to raise the second door she saw it was clipped shut. This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist, but Candy said she just wasn’t thinking when she reached in to unclip it,” Baskin said in a statement. “It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it. Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder.”

In her statement, Baskin said Kimba dropped his grip on the volunteer when another person heard the commotion and came running. A nurse who was there “held off the artery” under Candy’s armpit to stop the bleeding while another man used his belt as a tourniquet. The nurse then packed Candy’s arm in ice packs to try and save it, according to Baskin.

Candy was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital for treatment.

According to the Big Cat Rescue website, Kimba is a 3-year-old tiger who has been at the park for just more than a year. He was rescued from a circus in Guatemala.

Vernon Yates owns Wildlife Rescue and Rehab in Pinellas County and is a longtime rival and critic of Carol Baskin.

Like Baskin, Yates was featured in the Netflix series “Tiger King.”

Yates says he doesn’t blame the volunteer for what happened.

“By all means, if you’ve got a cat that’s got that kind of attitude, there should have been two people there, not one,” he said.

He also doesn’t blame the Tiger for what happened and says the animal should not be put down.

“It’s not the cat’s fault. The cat is being a cat,” Yates said.

He believes there should also be a federal investigation of the incident.

“Who should step in is OSHA. OSHA should stop and look at it because it occurred on the job, whether they’re paid or not, they are still there,” Yates said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Captive Wildlife section is investigating.

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