The chief tiger keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo was killed on Friday by one of the animals she loved. Stacey Konwiser, 38, was attacked in a tiger enclosure as she prepared to give a "Tiger Talk" to visitors, CNN reports. Cops had to tranquilize the 13-year-old male Malayan tiger before they could reach Konwiser, who was taken to a hospital by helicopter but died from what authorities say was a "severe bite." Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter tells the Palm Beach Post that she called Konwiser, a beloved staff member whose husband also works at the zoo, the "tiger whisperer" because they "spoke to each other in a language that only they could understand." "I can't put into words or make you understand for anyone who didn't know Stacey how much she loved these tigers and how much this zoo family loved her," she says.
The attack happened out of sight of visitors in a sleeping and feeding area known as the "tiger night house," and the zoo stresses that contrary to reports on social media, the tiger was never loose, WPBF reports. The zoo "has a safety protocol in place for crisis situations and these protocols were employed today," Carter says. "Immediately after the Code Red was issued, guests, who were never in any danger, were ushered out of the zoo in an orderly fashion and the zoo went into lockdown." She says the tiger—one of four members of the endangered subspecies at the zoo and fewer than 250 in the world—has been "contained." This was the first fatal attack on a human in the zoo's history, she says. (Visitors sheltered in the manatee house after a polar bear escape in Cincinnati.)