TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A volunteer at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa was seriously injured on Thursday morning when a tiger she was feeding grabbed her arm and “nearly tore it off at the shoulder,” officials with the organization said.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue was called to the park located at 12802 Easy Street in Tampa around 8:30 a.m. for the incident. A public information officer said the person’s injury was serious.
Carole Baskin, the animal activist who owns Big Cat Rescue, later confirmed a woman who has been a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue for five years was feeding a tiger named Kimba when the animal grabbed her arm. Baskin identified the volunteer as Candy Couser.
According to Baskin, the incident happened when the volunteer 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 the victim’s armpit to stop the bleeding while another man used his belt as a tourniquet. The nurse then packed the victim’s arm in ice packs to try and save it, according to Baskin.
Baskin said an ambulance showed up to the park and took the volunteer to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“[She] was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake,” Baskin said. “He is being placed in quarantine for the next 30 days as a precaution, but was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.”
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.
Big Cat Rescue is making grief counseling available to staff and volunteers, who Baskin said met after the incident to discuss what happened.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Captive Wildlife section is investigating.
Baskin became famous after the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King”.
The series features Baskin’s long-time feud with Joe Exotic, the man at the center of the series. Baskin and Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joe Maldanado, have fought for years over the care and treatment of large animals. Maldanado was sentenced to 22 years in prison in January for his role in a murder-for-hire plot against Baskin.
“Tiger King” also touches on Baskin’s own controversy – the 1997 disappearance of her husband Don Lewis. As a result of the show’s popularity, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister assigned a detective this year to handle tips coming in from the public about Lewis.
Baskin has since appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”