Hamerton Zoo owner Andrew Swales has paid tribute to Rosa King who was mauled to death by a tiger at the park in 2017.

Andrew Swales at Hamerton ZooAndrew Swales at Hamerton Zoo

During an inquest into Rosa's death, at Huntingdon Town Hall, Mr Swales described the 33-year-old keeper as committed and hardworking" and "extremely well liked".

"She had worked for us for 15 years, she was part of the furniture," he said.

Mr Swales was giving evidence on the sixth day of the inquest, which is due to deliver its verdict on Wednesday or Thursday.

He was asked by coroner Nicholas Moss about the introduction of safety measures at the zoo which were put in place in the wake of Rosa's death on May 29, 2017.

Rosa KingRosa King

He said staff had been allocated radios and a checking system had been put in place whereby staff would let other team members know that animal areas had been locked down and it was safe for the public to enter the park.

Mr Swales said: "This was suggested by a police officer on the day of Rosa's death and we adopted it straight away and it was in place within 24 hours. This allows us to make sure each section is secure before the public are admitted."

Mr Swales was also asked about the double airlock gates which are now in position at the Malayan tiger enclosure. He was asked why these had not been put in place, despite the Defra guidelines which say they "should be" considered for category one animals such as tigers.

"This was never picked up internally or at any inspections and I have never seen them in any other zoos in the country," he told the jury.

Mr Moss then said: "In reality, if we conclude that Rosa finished cleaning the windows at about 9.40am, Cicip was in the paddock, and the location of her bucket suggests she was about to leave the enclosure as the metal gate and the wooden gate were open, it is likely she was attacked from behind.

"All of that means that Cicip was in that enclosure with the metal gate and the wooden gate open for a period of time, until about 11am, and could have just walked out?"

Mr Swales said: "Yes."

Mr Swales added: "On the day the protocol was not followed. Staff know to locate and then isolate the danger before entering to perform a task."

Mr Moss said: "But that takes no account of human error and not realising there was a tiger in the paddock. If there had been a double air locked gate in place would it have prevented the then ongoing risk to the public."

"Mr Swales said: "Only if the protocol was followed."

"But it would have added another level of safety?" said Mr Moss.

"Yes it would," replied Mr Swales.