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Hamerton Zoo keeper Rosa King ‘was cleaning windows inside enclosure before she was killed by tiger’





The inquest into the death of keeper Rosa King, who died after being attacked by a tiger at Hamerton Zoo Park, heard she had been cleaning the public viewing windows inside the animal’s enclosure.

Rosa King. Picture: Hamerton Zoo
Rosa King. Picture: Hamerton Zoo

Zoo director Andrew Swales told the jury gathered at Huntingdon Town Hall that he believed the rare male Malayan tiger, called Cicip, had been out all night in the paddock, and the keeper would have needed to check that the animal was isolated and the gates, or ‘slides’, were secure before entering.

Rosa, 33, died at the zoo near Sawtry on the morning of May 29, 2017, and her body was found by a member of the public at about 11.15am

Two gates and a metal vertical slide that were designed to ensure staff and tigers were kept separated in the paddock were found open following her death, the inquest heard.

A police investigation indicated there was no mechanical fault with the gates and slides.

Following her death, Rosa’s parents released a statement, saying: “She had a care and understanding of her animals that was a joy and privilege to behold.”

Rosa had worked at the zoo for 13 years.

On the first day of the inquest today (July 1), coroner Nicholas Moss told the jury of five men and five women: “Nobody is on trial and there is no question of blame. You, the jury, need to listen and watch the evidence as presented to you and ask yourselves just four questions.

“First, who was Rosa King? Then when, where and how did she come to her death?”

Mr Moss took the jury members through the bundle of documents in front of them, pointing out the layout of the tiger enclosure at Hamerton Park Zoo.

In particular their attention was drawn to a sliding gate through which the rare male Malayan tiger called ‘Cicip’ would gain access from his paddock, to the run where he would exercise.

They were told that the sliding gate, known as ‘Cicip gate’ was a galvanised metal sliding gate connected through metal wires to pulleys with counterweights that would allow the gate to open.

The jury were told this was not a computerised or otherwise mechanized gate. It is a simple mechanism with only a ‘closed’ or ‘open’ position.

The jury have been told there was a second similar galvanized metal gate leading to the paddock where the tiger was kept.

On the day of the tragedy, Rosa initially was with a work experience girl, but left her to go and clean the public viewing windows in the tiger enclosure before the zoo opened at 10am.

The public viewing windows needed daily cleaning as the tiger would urinate against them during the day. The jury was told that there were no witnesses to the actual attack upon Rosa King.

Mr Moss also pointed out a diagram to the jury members showing an area where blood stains were found, where a set of keys were discovered, and an empty bucket was laying on the ground and a paw print from Cicip.

Mr Moss said: “The first person to raise any kind of alarm was a Mr Frank York, who was a member of the public and who had seen the body of Rosa King. That was at approximately 11.15am.

“Zoo officers were called and alerted to the situation, whereupon several of them entered the run and managed to entice Cicip back into the paddock.”

The jury members heard that police firearms officers were in attendance and zoo officials had a tranquiliser gun, but because Cicip had been enticed back to his paddock he was not shot, and no firearms were used.

Mr Moss said: “As soon as Rosa King was seen it was immediately apparent that she was dead. Her death was reported at 11:46 am.”

A police inquiry was convened as is usual in cases of ‘death at work’, and from this initial enquiries showed that no apparent mechanical fault could be found with the galvanised metal sliding gate through which Cicip had entered the run.

The jury then heard a very emotional account from Andrea King, mother of Rosa about her daughter’s life, her love of animals from a very young age, and her career working with animals – particularly large cats – since getting the job at Hamerton Park Zoo immediately after leaving college.

Coroner Mr Moss advised the jury that he did not wish to dwell on the more distressing elements of the medical report, but would take them as entered into evidence.

Dr Goddard, a pathologist at Papworth Hospital who conducted an examination of Rosa’s body, said there were a number of visible injuries, including “significant lacerations and abrasions to the neck, consistent with an attack by an animal”.

He added: “All the injuries were entirely consistent with trauma from being bitten by a tiger and in keeping with an animal attack.”

The toxicologist report showed no signs of either drugs or alcohol present in the body.

The jury then heard evidence from zoo director Mr Swales.

Mr Swales said: “The zoo had originally been a private collection on farm land that had been in my family since the 1960s, then in 1990 it was opened to the public.

“We gradually added animals to the collection as they were offered to us and as funds would allow.

“The first big cats were cheetahs in 1998 from a private collection. Visitor numbers have grown from 12,000 in 1990, to over 100,000 last year.

“I had a private collection of animals before the public were admitted to the zoo so on a daily basis I would be responsible for overseeing the animals with the keeping staff, but not a direct hands-on role by 2017.

“If there was a large animal movement being undertaken I might potentially get involved, but mostly my role by 2017 was no longer animal keepering, more administration.

“Hamerton Park Zoo has historically been a member of a professional body for the training of zoo keepers, but no longer as such for personal/political reasons of my own.

“The next most senior after myself would be Catherine Adams, head keeper, who has direct keeping responsibilities of her own and is in charge of the rest of the keeping staff.

“In terms of maintenance, I’m capable of doing it and we also have an ‘odd-job’ man who takes care of some of the minor bits and pieces that we require.

“Rosa King came to the zoo at 2004 and as a junior keeper she would’ve worked progressively slowly through ground experience, specifically Catherine, who would’ve worked with her.”

Coroner Mr Moss asked Mr Swales if any records were kept of training progress for Rosa?

Mr Swales said: “Sorry, I cannot answer that question as I am not aware of any such documentation.”

Coroner Moss asked if there would have been any additional training around 2008-09 when Rosa King achieved senior keeper status and head of section for big cats.

Mr Swales said: “Not specifically. The training was an ongoing process, but no, there was not a specific new training program for senior keepers.

“The first Bengal tigers arrived from France in 2001, but were housed in what we now call the old tiger enclosure; though no tigers are in there now.”

“The new tiger house was built between 2013-14 with the two white tigers in it, then in 2014-15 the Malaysian tiger paddock was completed. In 2015-16 the runs for the Malaysian tigers were completed.

“A licence lasts for six years and then there was a major inspection every six years, with a mid-point inspection done at three years.

“A major inspection process was carried out in November 2012, leading to a new licence being granted in August 2013 and a health and safety inspection is done at the same time.

“At that time the Labour Local Authority issued some improvement notices - recommendations for health and safety for animals in a public setting.”

Coroner Moss asked if at that time the relevant documents and processes were put in place at that time.

Mr Swales said: “Yes, they were dealt with by them. There was an informal inspection held in December 2013, but there are no inspection records for 2014.

“But I personally don’t know of any inspections at that time, and most of it was carried out in-house, with another informal health and safety inspection in August 2015 looking at the improvements that had been required earlier on, and these had in fact been done.

“The next mid-licence inspection should have been carried out in August 2016, but this did not in fact take place.

“Subsequent to Rosa’s death there have been inspections on 8 June 2017, 7 September 2018 and in January 2019 running up to a new licence being issued in August 2019.

“We are therefore open on the basis of the 2012 licence at the moment.”

Coroner Moss asked what the duties of the employees should have been in terms of strategy and aim for these health and safety inspections.

Mr Swales said: “That would not have been something that was personally within my sphere, but risks must be kept as low as reasonably practicable.”

Coroner Moss asked about the design for the new tiger enclosure and specifically the sliding gates.

Mr Swales said: “The design was all done in-house based on a mixture of our own personal experience and input from outside bodies, the contractors, the zookeepers and from the ground up.

“However, the police report and this inquiry has used the word ‘gate’ to describe the entrance into and out of the paddock and run, and we would always call that a ‘slide’ – it was never referred to as a ‘gate’.”

Coroner Moss questioned Mr Swales about the layout of the new tiger enclosure, the changes that have been made for additional safety since Rosa’s death and most specifically about the slides and the access into and from the paddock to the run area.

Mr Swales said: “At the end of the public day the animal that has been out all day would be kept in the paddock with all three slides left open for free roaming.

“During the day, when one tiger is out in the paddock, the other tiger is kept in the tiger house, separated, because otherwise they would potentially fight.

“So for clarity the animal out in the open would have full access to both runs, the paddock and access through all the slides, while the other tiger would only have access to the tiger house (den) and a separate run.

“The tigers get used to the idea of the slides being opened and closed and familiarity with the zookeeper’s actions encourages them to be isolated first with food in den two, the tiger is made safe, and only then is the second animal allowed out into the paddock, and runs.

“The aim of the slides that are closed are to isolate a single animal in a safe area, this is usually done with food though familiarity of the process, the sounds of the slides opening and closing is usually enough for the animals to react.

“This process was tried and tested historically on the cheetahs first, and then applied on a larger scale to the new tiger enclosure.

“So, in the morning, the normal set of circumstances would be that one animal would be safe in either of the two dens, the slides would open and the other animal isolated in either the paddock or one of the two runs.

“On the day in question, which was the day after the bank holiday weekend, the viewing area would need to be cleaned safely before Cicip would be let out into the paddock.

“Anybody doing the cleaning task that morning would first ascertain the whereabouts of the two animals, this would be done physically by looking for them in the dens (tiger house) or the runs or the paddock.

“There is very good visibility of all the dens from the main access areas – you would be able to see the tigers and where they were.

“For the purposes of this inquiry I will assume Cicip was isolated.

“Secondly, the keeper should have checked the positions of the slides and the counterweights positions to see that they were in the ‘closed’ position.

“This can be done through a visual check of the counterweights and the slides themselves.

“Having made those two checks the task was to clean the viewing glass before the tiger would be let out, which would mean gaining entry through a metal gate but even at this position you could still see clearly through to where the tigers should have been.

“The normal process would be to double-check everything, then and only then, would access to the viewing glass area be made.

“Having cleaned the glass, exit would be made the same way through the secure metal gate, and only then would the tiger who would be released for the day be allowed out of the safe isolation area where it was.

“That is the system as I would’ve done it, and as I would’ve expected others to have done it.

“There is a very simple check sheet which we issue headed ‘Daily Check Sheet’ with the initials of the keeper who has done that check.”

Mr Moss compared the daily check sheets with the risk assessment fact sheets contained within the existing health and safety protocol in operation at the time.

He pointed out that cleaning windows that Rosa was doing at the time of the attack was not specifically referred to, but was the same in essence as ‘paddock maintenance’, which was listed, and may have included cleaning, removal of faeces and anything that needed to be done to clean the viewing area seen through the glass.

Mr Swales said: “Yes, that level of detail, while not in the health and safety document in the protocol, is what I would’ve been expecting of all the zookeepers working within our guidelines.

“All slides, gates and access to enclosures should have been checked and double-checked visually before any access to tiger areas would’ve been made.

“We specifically have manual systems in place for this because it is my belief that automated computer-controlled systems for this level of scrutiny are not reliable.

“The fact that in my opinion Cicip had been out all night in the paddock means that there would have been almost no way we could have recalled him in if he didn’t want to come even to feed.

“I can’t say one way or the other if the keeper from the day before had informed the staff or Rosa if Cicip had been left out all day and all night with full unfettered access to the paddock.

“Usually, the female, if such a circumstance arose, would return to the den area to feed, but with Cicip it is a different matter.”

The inquest continues and is expected to last for two weeks.

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