REMOVES DETAIL THAT ATTACK TOOK PLACE INDOORS, AS ATTACK ACTUALLY TOOK PLACE OUTSIDE - FILE - This November 2018 file photo shows Sanjiv, a Sumatran tiger at the Topeka Zoo in Topeka, Kansas. City officials say Sanjiv attacked a zookeeper early Saturday, April 20, 2019, at the zoo. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

Kansas zoo keeper attacked by tiger as visitors watch

Zoo investigates animal handling after tiger attacks worker

A Kansas zoo is investigating its animal-handling protocols after a Sumatran tiger seriously injured a veteran zookeeper, and its director acknowledged Tuesday that human error probably led to the attack.

The Topeka Zoo has “100 per cent confidence” that no problem with the tiger’s enclosure caused the attack Saturday on 40-year-old Kristyn Hayden-Ortega, Director Brendan Wiley said. She suffered puncture wounds and lacerations to her head, neck and back and remains hospitalized, though Wiley said her condition appears to be improving after she was moved Sunday out of intensive care.

Zoo officials said Hayden-Ortega went Saturday morning into the open part of the enclosure for a 7-year-old tiger named Sanjiv to clean it. The animal was supposed to be secured in an enclosed area but wasn’t and tackled the zookeeper as several visitors watched.

“We thought safety was our No. 1 focus,” Wiley told reporters during a news conference. “What happened Saturday morning, I think, shows that it wasn’t, and we’re going to rework processes so that things like that can’t happen again.”

The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that it is looking into the incident.

READ MORE: California woman charged with dumping puppies in trash

The Kansas Department of Labor plans to send a consultant to the zoo Thursday to review its written health and safety protocols and file a report by early next week, spokeswoman Julie Menghini said.

Also, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ accreditation committee will examine the incident with the Topeka Zoo to determine how future incidents could be prevented, spokesman Rob Vernon said.

“There only should be a zookeeper in that space when that tiger is secured in an inside area,” Wiley said.

The zoo struggled to maintain its accreditation between 2001 and 2012 because of management and animal health issues. The city paid a $45,000 fine over a USDA complaint alleging dozens of violations of its regulations.

But the USDA’s inspection service inspected the zoo five times in the past three years and “found no non-compliances,” spokesman R. Andre Bell said in an email.

Wiley said three co-workers came to Hayden-Ortega’s aid after being notified by a volunteer working outside the tiger’s enclosure. It’s not clear to zoo officials whether the volunteer saw the tiger tackle the zookeeper, and Wiley said he has yet to speak to Hayden-Ortega.

Two state game wardens staffing an Earth Day table also helped provide first aid. They arrived at the tiger enclosure after the attack but while the animal still stood over the zookeeper, said Ron Kaufman, a spokesman for the Kansas parks department.

Hayden-Ortega has been a zoo employee since 2001 and has worked regularly with the tigers. She is the president of the Topeka chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

“She’s one of our most experienced keepers,” Simpson said. “She’s an excellent trainer for the animals and our staff.”

Zoo officials said the tigers are solitary and Sanjiv mostly likely only reacted to someone else being in his territory. The animal weighs 275 pounds and is more than 6 feet long.

Wiley said the tiger didn’t appear to be “angry,” and Shanna Simpson, the assistant zoo curator who oversees its tigers, called him an “all-around great cat” who had been relatively easy to work with.

READ MORE: Salmon Arm couple suspect dog died after eating poisonous plant on hike

The tiger is back on display, and Wiley said there never was any discussion about euthanizing him after the attack — though zoo employees had been prepared to shoot the animal if they had not been able to lure him away from Hayden-Ortega by displaying a food bucket and calling to him.

Wiley said the global population of Sumatran tigers numbers only in the hundreds so that, “the genetics are so valuable.”

“But more than that, the tiger did nothing wrong,” Wiley said. “The tiger was just simply being a tiger.”

Sanjiv came to the Topeka Zoo in August 2017 from a zoo in Akron, Ohio. He has fathered four cubs that live in a separate enclosure.

The Topeka Zoo, in the city’s largest park, opened in the 1930s and has a staff of between 140 and 150 people, including about 35 full-time employees.

John Hanna, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Clearwater food bank receives donation from tree planting group

Dynamic Reforestation out of Williams Lake donated $1,400 in light of International Hunger Day

No active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Interior Health: BCCDC

Numbers from the BCCDC’s dashboard show 193 of the 195 COVID-19 cases in the region have recovered

Cariboo ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

Rod and gun club president speaks up on gun ban

Chase said such a sweeping ban isn’t the right way to address the issue in a democratic country

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

Vancouver Island First Nations gather to remember woman fatally shot by police

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council requests an independent investigation

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Ontario Long Term Care Association calling for more action

Most Read