21 Sep 2015

Tiger to live after killing zoo keeper

5:04 pm on 21 September 2015

The male Sumatran tiger that mauled a woman to death at Hamilton Zoo will not be put down.

Oz at Hamilton zoo.

Oz at Hamilton zoo. Photo: Supplied

Samantha Lynda Kudeweh, 43, was a senior member of the zoo's team and had been a zoo keeper for over 20 years.

Ms Kudeweh was killed by 11-year old male tiger Oz. He shared an enclosure with a female tiger called Mencari.

Samantha Kudeweh

Samantha Kudeweh Photo: Supplied

In a statement Hamilton Zoo said Oz will not be euthanised.

Hamilton City Council general manager community Lance Vervoort said although zoo keeper Ms Kudeweh's death was a tragedy, senior zoo staff had decided to rule out euthanising Oz.

"We're aware there is a lot of interest and speculation around how we manage Oz now, and I want to assure the public and zoo supporters that he will not be put down," Mr Vervoort said.

"Although there is an inherent risk for zoo professionals who manage big cats like Oz, there is no wider ongoing risk. There is no reason for us to put Oz down."

Ms Kudeweh's family have gathered at her Waikato home today.

In a statement released a short time ago, the family thanked the public and the global zoo community for their messages of support over the past 24 hours.

Family spokesperson Catherine Nichols - who also works as a Hamilton Zoo staff member - said Ms Kudeweh was "recognised and respected globally as a talented, passionate and highly knowledgeable conservation and zoo professional".

She said Ms Kudeweh's expertise and understanding of animals was highly sought after by other zoos and captive animal breeding programmes, after a career of more than 20 years in the conservation and zoo sector.

Samantha Lynda Kudeweh

Photo: Hamilton Zoo website

As Hamilton zoo curator, Ms Kudeweh was responsible for the management of the animals and acquisitions of new animal exhibits, said Ms Nichols.

"Samantha was a passionate conservationist, and today her family have recalled how, as an intermediate school student, she told her parents she wanted to work in the zoo sector."

Ms Kudeweh grew up in Papakura, and studied at Lincoln University and Auckland University toward a Bachelor of Science before working at Auckland Zoo for several years.

She met her husband, Richard, after moving to Zoos Victoria in 2002, with the couple moving back to Hamilton in 2005, where she started as the mammals team leader. The couple have two children - Billy, 9, and Sage, 3.

In 2011 she was promoted to zoo curator and Ms Nichols said Ms Kudeweh had achieved one of her professional dreams.

"It gave her the opportunity to become involved in a number of species management programmes, an area of conservation which she had a passion for.

"The zoo was a crucial part of Samantha's life, second only to her family. She appreciated what Richard called "intelligent humour", and loved the people around her and those she worked alongside."

Another family friend of Ms Kudeweh said she would be sorely missed. Nicholas van der Sande's daughter worked with Ms Kudeweh at Hamilton Zoo.

Ms Kudeweh was well respected in Pirongia and was known for her competence and professionalism, he said.

"I know that most of the staff and my daughter and partner thought the world of her."

There were strict rules for dealing with the animals, he said.

"There's such a rigid protocol that they go through as far as checking that gates are locked and they are never in with the tigers, they are never in the same enclosure as them."

Ms Kudeweh was extremely knowledgeable in zoo keeping, he said.

Investigations continue into mauling

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker said zoo staff were struggling to come to terms with what happened.

"Staff at the zoo are a very close-knit group and many of them have worked at the zoo for a long time and of course they are all supporting each other and being there there for the family. There is good support currently at the zoo for the staff and I think that's very important, but I think all of Hamilton will be really feeling for those people today."

Hamilton City Council, which owns the zoo, was not releasing any details surrounding the death until a number of investigations were complete.

Radio New Zealand has been told that the keepers are never supposed to have direct contact with the zoo's five tigers, and two padlocked gates and a locked door should be between any keeper and the tigers.

Food is normally passed to the tigers through a slot in the fence at the twice daily feeding.

One possible explanation could be that the keeper, while cleaning out a cage, thought the tigers in that enclosure were outside, but did not check. However, Radio New Zealand has been told that even this scenario seems totally out of character because the keepers are extremely vigilant and know the dangers of wild animals.

Normally two keepers would be working with the tigers at any one time.

Hamilton Zoo after the deadly tiger attack

Hamilton Zoo after the deadly tiger attack yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae