16 Sep 2016

Hamilton City Council sentenced over zookeeper's death

5:31 pm on 16 September 2016

A judge has fined the Hamilton City Council nearly $39,000, and asked it to pay over $10,000 in reparation, after a zookeeper was mauled to death by a tiger.

Samantha Lynda Kudeweh

Samantha Kudeweh Photo: Hamilton Zoo website

The council pleaded guilty in June to failing to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of its worker, Samantha Kudeweh, in September 2015.

Ms Kudeweh, 43, was killed after entering the tiger enclosure at Hamilton Zoo, not knowing the animal was roaming freely.

The council has since spent $217,000 on improving zoo safety, $125,000 on an independent report and a further $116,000 voluntarily paid to Ms Kudeweh's family.

In the Hamilton District Court today, Judge Denise Clarke described Ms Kudeweh as highly competent, with more than 20 years' experience in the industry, and "a shining light" to all who knew her.

She read the court a victim impact statement from Ms Kudeweh's husband that said his life had been completely turned on its head and he struggled every day to remain composed for the sake of their two children.

In acknowledging the council had already paid the family $116,000, Judge Clarke ordered that $5181.80 reparation be paid to each of Ms Kudeweh's children.

The Hamilton City Council today unreservedly apologised to Ms Kudeweh's family.

The council's chief executive, Richard Briggs, said they accepted the systems they had in place were not good enough, and they had since made a number of changes, including switching to a two-zookeeper system for the tigers.

He said they were striving to make Hamilton Zoo as safe as possible and to ensure such a tragedy would not happen again.

Outside court, Mr Kudeweh angrily told media he had only received part of the earlier reparation payment - but Mr Briggs disputed that, saying it had been paid out in full.

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