Palm Beach Zoo worker’s mistake may have invited tiger bite
By Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008
WEST PALM BEACH ? Florida Fish and Wildlife investigators believe a handler at the Palm Beach Zoo may be to blame for getting nipped Sunday by Mata, one of two rare Malayan tigers at the zoo.
Officer Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said zoo keeper Susie Nuttall was using treats to train Mata, but she used her fingers to extend the treat instead of holding her palm flat with the treat on it.
Mata nipped the tip of Nuttall’s middle finger. Although zoo officials said the injury was minor and that no part of the finger was actually removed, a hand surgeon was called in to repair the damage.
“It was a very minor deviation from protocol,” said Pino, who added that no charges will be filed against Nuttall or the zoo. “It was just a mistake.”
Nuttall has been at the Palm Beach Zoo for eight months and had a year’s worth of experience prior to that, Pino said.
The incident happened after the 5 p.m. closing time in the zoo’s night holding facility, said spokeswoman Gail Eaton.
The tiger was being fed through an opening in a steel cage, and there were two keepers in the room when the accident happened, according to zoo officials.
A zoo employee drove the woman to Good Samaritan for the injury to the tip of her middle finger on her right hand. She was later taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where she is today.
Zoo officials will review policies and procedures, Eaton said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were also notified of the incident.
The zoo does not allow trainers to go into the tiger cages, and all contact is considered “protected” contact, said Keith Lovett, director of living collections at the zoo.
The incident occurred in a nighttime facility where the tigers are taken for protection. The tigers are rewarded when they go into the facility with food. They also get rewards when they perform specific behaviors that can be helpful in veterinary procedures, such as opening their mouths and showing their paws.
“She was following procedures, as far as we can tell,” Eaton said.
Lovett said he believed the trainer would be released from the hospital this afternoon.
The zoo has two tigers, brothers Rimba and Mata, who were born at the San Diego Zoo and arrived here in December 2006. Mata is 2 years and 8 months old.
Mata, Lovett said, is calmer than his brother and interacts more with keepers.
“The tiger wasn’t being vicious,” Lovett said. “He was just trying to get a treat.”
The last tiger incident at a zoo happened on Christmas Day, when a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo escaped and killed one of that zoo’s patrons.
Mata is on display today.
“I’m sure he’s completely unaware he caused all this furor,” Eaton said.
Feb 11, 2008 4:44 PM Link to this
While I am not a proponent of zoos, I have visited the Bronx Zoo and witnessed sessions where it is shown how they reward the tigers with food for actions performed when they need to be checked for medical reasons, etc. They did not reward them with the food by hand, it was placed on the end of a long stick and fed through the fencing. Maybe this is a policy the Palm Beach Zoo should adopt.
This incident was caused by the error of the zookeeper; the tiger, once again, is not to blame. These animals did not ask to be in captivity; but unfortunately there are zoos, and the responsibility lies within the zoo’s staff and management to insure the safety and care of these animals as well as the safety of the public.
As to the comment posted by Joe on Feb 11, 2008 2:24 PM:
It is your choice not to go to this zoo, but I find your comment suggesting the tiger be put down because of this incident extreme. Once again, human error is to blame, not the tiger.