Zoo keeper’s death was accidental - Coroner says Rosa was “all-round exceptional individual”

Rosa King

Rosa King - Credit: Archant

The jury in the inquest of zoo keeper Rosa King have today (Wednesday) returned a verdict of accidental death.

Coroner Nicholas Moss made clear he believed it would be appropriate to issue a prevention of future deaths report and he would be making this public in the next few days.

He said he would be looking at different aspects of the evidence, including the lack of airlock keeper gates; conventional firearms, night-time working by animal keepers; dependency on zoo keeper reliability during incidents; inspections and layout of Malayan tiger enclosure at Hamerton Zoo.

He went on to pay tribute to Rosa and said: "It is apparent that Rosa had an incredible passion for animals and she inspired many colleagues and work experience students. She was an all-round exceptional individual.

Rosa, who had worked at the zoo for 15 years, was described as "committed, hardworking and extremely well liked".

Zoo owner Andrew Swales told the jury on Tuesday that she was "part of the furniture,".

At the start of the hearing, held at Huntingdon Town Hall, the jury of five men and five women were warned they were likely to hear some "distressing" evidence.

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During six days of evidence from 15 witnesses, they heard that Rosa suffered traumatic injuries after she was mauled by the zoo's male Malayan tiger named Cicip on May 29, 2017.

A post-mortem examination revealed the 33-year-old suffered multiple lacerations, abrasions and puncture wounds to her neck and right arm and her cervical spine had been severed. A doctor who attended the scene described Rosa's injuries as "incompatible with life".

The jury heard it was likely she was attacked from behind just a few feet away from an exit gate after the animal had stalked her for some time.

On the morning of May 29, Rosa had been working with a work experience student, but just after 9.30am she went to the Malayan tiger enclosure alone to clean the windows of the public viewing area. She entered through a staff service area and opened a wooden gate and then opened a metal gate to the tiger paddock. At the this point, Cicip should have been in his night-time den and locked away.

All the forensic evidence suggests that Rosa had completed her cleaning task and was about to reinter the service area. Her bucket and keys were found by the wooden gate and there was a bloody footprint on the ground and evidence that the tiger had dragged her body to a different position.

The routine then would have been for her to close the first metal gate to the paddock and then open another gate to let Cicip out from the den into the paddock for the day.

Zoo owner Andrew Swales and head keeper Katherine Adams told the inquest it was their belief that Rosa had left Cicip in the paddock the night before, and although there is no evidence, she had possibly forgotten he was out and failed to check is whereabouts the following morning.

The jury were told that Rosa was an experienced keeper and was extremely safety conscious so it is not clear why she didn't check to see where the tiger was before entering the paddock. The zoo protocol, which she helped to write, was to locate the tiger and isolate the animal, using the metal gates, before entering.

The alarm was raised by Frank York who was visiting the zoo for the day and staff raced to the scene to close the gate and entice the animal, using meat, out of the paddock so Rosa could receive medical treatment.

Coroner Nicholas Moss raised concerns during the inquest that the Rosa was attacked some time after 9.40am; the zoo opens at 10am, and her body was discovered just before 11am by Mr York, which meant with the metal and wooden gates open, Cicip would have been able to walk out of the enclosure.

Zoo owner Andrew Swales told him that staff were now issued with radios to enable them to relay their movements and provide checks and a double air-locked gate had been added to the Malayan tiger enclosure.

Throughout the inquest the zoo management received criticism over some of its health and safety and protocol documentation which was described as "dangerously random" and "lacking detail".

The jury also heard that a licensing inspection, which should have been carried out by Huntingdonshire District Council in 2016. had been missed.