A volunteer at a Florida animal sanctuary featured in the “Tiger King” documentary series was seriously injured when a tiger grabbed and nearly tore off her arm as she tried to feed it, the sanctuary announced on Thursday.
The volunteer, Candy Couser, 69, was in good condition on Thursday afternoon after she was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital, a spokeswoman for the hospital said. Ms. Couser’s husband told the sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., that his wife’s arm was broken in three places and that her shoulder was badly damaged but that she could move her fingers. Ms. Couser has volunteered at Big Cat Rescue for five years.
The animal rescue made a minor celebrity of its founder, Carole Baskin, after it was featured in Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a documentary series about the big cat industry that became enormously popular in March, when millions of Americans were stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday morning, Ms. Couser was feeding a tiger named Kimba when she reached into a tunnel between the tiger and his food to raise a door that was clipped shut, according to a statement posted on Big Cat Rescue’s Facebook page. The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue was dispatched at about 8:30 a.m. for a call about an animal bite, according to a spokesman.
It is against the sanctuary’s protocols for anyone to stick any body part into a cage where a cat is kept, Ms. Baskin wrote in an email. Volunteers must go through more than 50 classes before they are allowed to feed big cats, she said, adding that coordinators would meet on Thursday night to discuss the episode.
According to Ms. Baskin, the last time a sanctuary volunteer was injured that way was in 1988, when a volunteer received stitches after she was bitten when she stuck her arms in a leopard cage.
“The fact that, despite our intense safety protocols and excellent record of safety, an injury like this can occur just confirms the inherent danger in dealing with these animals,” the statement said.
During a feeding, the tiger grabbed Ms. Couser’s arm and nearly tore it off at her shoulder, according to the statement.
A Big Cat Rescue staff member heard the commotion and ran to Kimba’s enclosure, when the cat quickly dropped his grip on Ms. Couser, the statement said. Staff members held the artery under Ms. Couser’s armpit to stop the bleeding from the injury and used a belt as a tourniquet. Workers later told Ms. Baskin that Ms. Couser’s arm was barely attached to her shoulder when they arrived to help her.
Ms. Couser’s arm was packed in ice packs in an attempt to save it. The hospital spokeswoman added that Ms. Couser would have surgery but provided no other details.
While the staff waited for paramedics to arrive at the animal sanctuary, they kept Ms. Couser conscious and talking, getting information from her about allergies, medical conditions and her blood type. They said Ms. Couser told them she didn’t want the tiger to be harmed for her mistake.
In a meeting with the staff after the incident, Ms. Baskin cried and told them, “You guys are such heroes, and you have nothing to be ashamed of with what happened here today.”
Kimba is a 3-year-old male tiger rescued from a circus in Guatemala. He arrived at Big Cat Rescue in November 2019. He is being placed in quarantine for the next 30 days as a precaution, the statement said. Big Cat Rescue said that Kimba’s rabies vaccine and other inoculations were up-to-date. In an email, Ms. Baskin said she considered the tiger safe.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s captive wildlife section is investigating the incident, a commission spokeswoman said in an email. No details were provided.
“Tiger King” depicts a yearslong feud between Ms. Baskin and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, the eccentric former owner of a big cat zoo in Oklahoma. The second episode of the series depicts a violent encounter at Mr. Maldonado-Passage’s zoo, where one of the animal keepers lost part of his arm after sticking it through a tiger’s cage. He said he returned to work after seven days in the hospital.