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Topeka Zoo releases incident report involving tiger attack

A news release from the Topeka Zoo has summarized the specific details of the tiger attack on a zookeeper that occurred on April 20th.

The attack occurred at approximately 9:30 a.m.  Kristyn Hayden-Ortega was cleaning the outside enclosure of the tiger’s exhibit when the tiger gained access to the outside from an indoor holding space through a door that was supposed to be locked.

Hayden-Ortega noticed the tiger in the same exposure as her, and attempted to make her way towards the exit.  The tiger grabbed her from behind and pulled her back into the habitat.

At this time, a volunteer who witnessed the attack ran to a nearby zookeeper to alert them a tiger was out.  Another guest observing the attack called 911, which helped establish the timeline in the release.

Two zookeepers had made their way to the exhibit and attempted to lure the tiger away from Hayden-Ortega with meat.  According to the release, within three minutes and forty-five seconds, the tiger was secured in an inside holding space and first responders were administering first aid to Hayden-Ortega.

The release states that a zoo keeper, previously identified as Hayden-Ortega, “omitted the crucial step” of locking the tiger inside prior to entering the outdoor habitat.

“To enter the tiger building you have to go through two sets of doors.  To let an animal out, you have to unlock two different sets of locks,” said Brendan Wiley, Director of the Topeka Zoo.  “Throughout that system there was that redundancy, and to that point, had been a very safe and effective system for working large cats here at the zoo.”

According to the release, within two hours after the attack a new policy was put into place that would require a second person to “check locks, doors and location of animals within, before a staff person opens a door or gate to that previously authorized space.”

Wiley said that he is unsure if this is their end policy.  The zoo is also considering a “Two Lock Two Key System” in which there are two differently keyed locks on potentially dangerous doors and no zookeeper has both keys to both locks.

The zoo is also considering providing each employee with a personal body alarm, in case no one else is around to notify others of an emergency.  Also, monthly staff tours will be held to ensure every staff member is familiar with all parts of the zoo.

“All of us are on the same page that we can’t let something like this happen here again,” said Wiley.

Wiley was unable to comment on Hayden-Ortega’s condition, but did go on to say that it is the zoo’s belief and her belief she will be returning.

“Every indication that I’ve heard is she’s planning on it,” said Wiley.  “We don’t know what the role will be, but we are eagerly awaiting her return.”


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