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Tiger lacerated Topeka zookeeper with punctures to head, neck, back

Sanjiv plays in his habitat at the Topeka Zoo

The Topeka Zoo's male Sumatran Tiger Sanjiv plays in his habitat.
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The Topeka Zoo's male Sumatran Tiger Sanjiv plays in his habitat.

The female zookeeper who was attacked Saturday by the male Sumatran tiger under her care received major lacerating and puncture wounds, Topeka Zoo Director Brendan Wiley confirmed Saturday.

“Lacerations and punctures to the back of the head, neck, back and one of her arms,” Wiley told The Star Saturday afternoon. At a 1 p.m. press conference, Wiley extended his thoughts and prayers to the family of the tiger’s keeper.

“We do know know that she is out of surgery and is in stable condition,” Wiley said.

The name of the keeper, the mother of a 3-year-old son, is being withheld until all family members can be informed of her condition, he said.

The attack by Sanjiv, the zoo’s 7-year-old male Sumatran tiger, occurred at about 9:15 a.m. The keeper had been in the same area as the tiger. Wiley did not expressly say that the zookeeper did anything wrong. Nor did he explain why she was in the enclosure with the tiger.

“They’re definitely not supposed to be in the same area at the same time,” Wiley said. “We’re going to let our internal investigation play out.”

Despite the attack, Wiley said there is no plan to euthanize the tiger, one among a dwindling and endangered species.

“Sanjiv this morning did exactly what a tiger would when something comes into its territory,“ Wiley said at the news conference. “There is exactly no consideration to euthanize Sanjiv.

“Sanjiv will continue to be a valuable and viable part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums species survival plan.”

The zookeeper was transported to a local hospital shortly after the attack, which originally was reported to have occurred at about 9:45 a.m., but which actually happened about 15 minutes after the zoo opened its gates. He said that were it not for the heroic actions of a number of other staff members, “this could have been a very different outcome.

“Tigers are very effective. They are born predators,” Wiley said. “It’s just amazing our other staff was able to get the tiger to another area and leave her (the injured keeper).”

At the press conference, Wiley reiterated, “While this incident is very unfortunate, he (Sanjiv) did what a wild tiger does.”

Sanjiv came to the Topeka Zoo in 2017. His mating with the zoo’s female tiger resulted in four cubs born in October. The cubs went on open display last month.

Video of the attack has yet to emerge. Since the cubs’ births, the zoo has been live-streaming their interactions with their mother. But there was no camera on the side of the enclosure where the attack occurred.

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