WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Palm Beach Zoo's President and CEO Andrew Aiken has issued a statement on the death of lead keeper Stacey Konwiser.
As President and Chief Executive Officer of the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, I want thank everyone for supporting lead zookeeper Stacey Konwiser, her family and entire Zoo family. I appreciate the interest of our community to learn and understand all the facts and circumstances that led to the recent death of Mrs. Konwiser, one week ago.
The facts as we know them confirm that one of our most senior and experienced animal experts who was highly qualified and a leader in her zookeeper position, secured a portion of the tiger night house with a tiger in it, and then entered that same portion of the night house after it was clearly designated as accessible by a tiger. Under Palm Beach Zoo policy, zoo employees are never allowed to enter a tiger enclosure to which the animal has access.
Why or how this could possibly occur is the subject of five ongoing investigations, including our own. Over the next few weeks we will continue to meet with employees, OSHA inspectors, detectives from the West Palm Beach Police Department, Florida Fish & Wildlife officers, investigators from the USDA and our own internal investigative team to understand every aspect of this tragic loss.
As the facts are known, we will provide them to you. All of us share two common goals: to completely understand how this could ever happen and to assure everyone that this will never happen again.
The Palm Beach Zoo also released the following question and answer session with President and CEO Andrew Aiken:
1.) At the Palm Beach Zoo are employees allowed to enter the tiger enclosure?
Our policy states that zookeepers are never to enter into an enclosure when a tiger is present or has access to the enclosure. When a tiger enclosure is secured so that no tiger can enter, then and only then are zookeepers allowed to enter the enclosure to clean, prepare food, or otherwise service the enclosure.
2.) Since the accident, has the zoo amended its policy for moving tigers within the tiger enclosure?
Existing AZA standards allow for one or two zookeepers to be present when animals are moved between rooms in the night house enclosures. As our entire Zoo family continues to grieve the loss of our beloved colleague, the Zoo has instituted an interim two-person system for moving tigers in the night house. The use of a two person system for moving tigers in the night house is not required by AZA standards.
3.) What is the staffing structure within the animal care division of the Palm Beach Zoo?
We have 33 animal care staff positions, of which 22 are zookeepers.
Zookeeper 22 positions, of which 2 are open.
Animal Commissary 3 positions, of which 1 is open.
General Curator 1
Associate Curators 2
Veterinarian Technicians 2
Record Curator 1
Over the last several months we have cared for approximately 550 animals. On a regular basis animals are shifted in and out of the Zoo pursuant to our ongoing work with other institutions associated with the AZA.
4.) What impact has the accident had on attendance at the Zoo?
Attendance dropped over the weekend of April 16 – 17 because we closed for two days following this incident. Weekends and holidays tend to be our busiest days.
Prior to this incident, we were on pace to have a record year. Through the day of the incident, Zoo attendance was 4,362 people ahead of our best ever fiscal year-to-date. Attendance for this fiscal year is projected to exceed 330,000 people. This represents a projected 7,000 person increase over the previous year, which was also a record setting year.
5.) Is the Zoo able to confirm via video surveillance if Stacey Konwiser was alone or if the tiger left its enclosure or the night house during the accident?
Stacey Konwiser was alone when she entered the night house. The Zoo has video monitoring equipment installed in the tiger enclosure where the incident occurred. However, the equipment is only activated for monitoring newborn tiger cubs. We have no cubs at this time, therefore the monitoring equipment was not in use at the time of the accident. As has been reported, the Zoo has been overseeing a successful tiger breeding operation for several years.
The tiger was never outside of its enclosure or the animal containment portion of the night house at any time.
6.) Does the Palm Beach Zoo allow guests to enter its night houses?
For many years, the Zoo has routinely toured Zoo supporters into portions of the night house accessible only to people but adjacent tiger enclosures. Recently, the Zoo began offering this experience to our general guests and visitors. All such tours are carefully monitored and supervised. No visitors, guests, or staff members are ever allowed to access any night house areas without Zoo keeper supervision. All animal encounters – including the tiger encounter – have been temporarily suspended as staff members experience the grieving process following this incident. We expect to resume all talks, tours, and encounters at the appropriate time, as offering such up close experiences is integral to our mission of inspiring people to act on behalf of wildlife.
7.) Is it still a mystery to the Zoo of how Konwiser died? Or have state/federal authorities not shared their investigative findings with the Zoo?
There is absolutely no mystery as to how Stacey Konwiser died. The question is: why did a deeply talented and experienced Zookeeper, fully aware of the presence of a tiger and knowledgeable of our safety protocols, enter a tiger enclosure into which a tiger had access? There are currently five separate ongoing investigations looking into this question. These investigations involve questioning everyone who can shed light on the facts of the actual event. To date, no findings or reports have been issued.