Volunteer Candy Couser Injured By Kimba Tiger
December 3, 2020, during feeding at 8:21 am, Candy age 69, who has been a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue for five years, and a Green Level Keeper (lions, tigers, etc.) for almost three years was feeding 3 year old Kimba Tiger. She saw that he was locked in a section that was away from where he was usually fed and radiod the coordinator to find out why. Kimba had been locked away from that section for several days as cameras were being installed there. She opened a guillotine tunnel door at one end of the tunnel, and 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 un clip it. 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.
Jane heard the commotion and came running. Kimba dropped his grip and Candy fell away from the side of the tunnel. Gina being a nurse held off the artery under Candy’s armpit to stop the bleeding and Marc, who had pulled Candy to safety, used his belt as a tourniquet as others called for an ambulance. Gina packed her arm in ice packs to try and save it. The ambulance arrived within 15-20 minutes of the accident.
Candy’s husband was called, and Candy has been taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Candy was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake. 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.
Grief counseling is available in our grief group with Dr. Kim for those who have been impacted by this tragic event. All of the volunteers and staff on site today met to discuss what happened. Carole reminded everyone that this sort of tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye and that we cannot relax our guard for a second around these dangerous cats. This happened on the day our federal bill to ban cub handling and private possession comes to the House floor for a vote.
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 and why we need the Big Cat Public Safety Act to eliminate having them untracked in backyards around the country and ending up in sanctuaries where wonderful people like Candy Couser have committed themselves to providing care for those discarded by the pay to play industry.
https://bigcatrescue.org/kimba/ for photos and videos of him
The audio file of the volunteers informing Carole Baskin of the event is embedded with photos of Candy caring for cats here and even on the day of Kimba’s arrival from Guatemala when she helped offload him from the transport to his new forever home here. Candy is a beloved member of our family and cares deeply for the animals and respects the safety protocols of the sanctuary. It only took one moment, and one wrong decision for tragedy to strike.
Update on Candy Couser and Kimba
Candy’s husband reports that she is going into surgery soon. She can move her fingers and her arm is broken in three places. Her shoulder is badly damaged though. She is conscious but sedated and when the Florida Wildlife officers visited her they said she was able to tell them what happened, which is what she told our volunteers who responded to the scene. Kimba Tiger’s rabies and other vaccines are all up to date but he’s being kept on quarantine for 30 days anyway to keep an eye on him. 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. Please keep Candy and her family in your hearts, as we will be doing, in hopes for a full recovery. We also ask that the media stop hounding them and us during this stressful time for all involved.
Our keepers go through extensive training with the most important being to never stick any part of your body in a cage. In addition to all of the classes at Zoocollege.com there are also certifications for each procedure that require observing how something is done several times and then having someone who is certified observe the keeper doing the procedure several times. Each time there are written sign offs before graduation to the next level of animal care. There are more than 50 classes to reach the level of proficiency required to feed our big cats. Coordinators are meeting tonight however to discuss the issue.
How do we feed big cats at Big Cat Rescue?
This video is from our feedling class but the doors that Candy was operating were a full cage away from this feeding lockout because she accidentally took the food to the wrong feeding lockout. As stated above, this large section of cage had been shut off from the cat because work on the road near it had been under construction for a few days and we were keeping him from barking at those working nearby.
What Changes Resulted From This Tragic Accident?
Big Cat Rescue’s Volunteer Committee and Coordinators all met on the eve of this tragedy to discuss ways that such an accident might be prevented in the future. Given the extent of the training our volunteers receive and the certifications required that they observe someone doing the tasks several times and then have certified trainers observing them doing the tasks several times, before they are signed off to do them alone there wasn’t much we could improve to insure our people don’t make a mistake and break protocol. If the actual safety training couldn’t be improved then perhaps the answer would be to require annual recertification in our safety training, which includes NEVER sticking any part of your body into a cage containing a cat, so that everyone is reminded again. We already do mandatory monthly safety training and drills of all our keepers and admin partners, but each month is a different topic. Adding the annual requirement to revisit our most important rule about never coming into contact, or potential contact, with any of our exotic cats was the primary conclusion of the meeting.
After our dirt road, Easy Street, was closed to traffic and we started using the paved road down past the Marriott and then the shorter dirt drive to our gate, we invited the fire department and sheriff’s departments that are both less than a mile from us out to visit the sanctuary and see all of the access points in case of an emergency. Despite this, the ambulance that arrived was delayed 11 minutes from the time we could hear the sirens and they arrived on the scene because Google maps and GPS are incorrect and they went to the mapped coordinates first which are wrong and there was no entry available at those wrong locations. We’ve tried unsuccessfully to change this with the map systems to no avail. We will find out where this ambulance was dispatched from, as the sirens were heard just six minutes after we called 911 and give them our updated access info.
We also arranged to be a collection point for cards and letters for Candy’s speedy recovery at Big Cat Rescue 12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625 and we will forward them to her for you.
This video is an aerial view of Kimba Tiger’s enclosure.