A Siberian tiger “grabbed a female keeper by the neck” and mauled her to death while shocked visitors and a young child watched on Saturday.
Staff from the Zurich Zoo rushed to try and resuscitate the zookeeper, 55, but “sadly all help came too late,” police spokeswoman Judith Hoedl said.
Visitors to the zoo were horrified and raised the alarm after the tiger, Irina, attacked the keeper in the cage about 1pm, The Sun reported.
One witness told Blick TV in Switzerland it took about nine minutes for zoo staff to arrive at the scene.
“The tiger had grabbed the woman by the neck,” the witness said.
Among those who witnessed the fatal attack was a small child.
Another witness said that four police cars and an ambulance dashed to the tiger enclosure and tried to stun the tiger with non lethal weapons.
“The police ran with pepper spray and rubber shot towards one of the animal enclosures,” he told Blick.
A spokesperson for the zoo said in a statement that its “internal emergency centre received a message that an animal keeper in the tiger facility had been attacked by a Siberian tiger.
“A group of zookeepers immediately moved to the enclosure.
“They succeeded in luring Irina away from the animal keeper, out of the facility and into the stable.
“Despite immediate resuscitation measures, the 55-year-old woman was unfortunately too late to help and died on the spot.”
“How the tragic incident happened and why the animal keeper was in the enclosure at the same time as the tiger is now being examined by the public prosecutor, the police, and forensics.”
The zoo issued another update today, saying the woman’s death was “extremely tragic and Zurich Zoo is deeply affected. Nevertheless, the zoo notes that the tiger is a wild animal.
“A person in their facility is an intruder into their territory. In her reaction, she only followed her natural instincts.”
The zoo said the tiger would not be euthanised.
Zoo Zurich director Severin Dressen told reporters, the zoo’s “full sympathy is with the relatives of the victim”.
He said the keeper was a long-term staff member at the zoo.
“This is a young animal that so far has behaved entirely naturally as a tiger does,” Mr Dressen said.
Irina was born in captivity at Odense Zoo in Denmark and was transferred to Zurich when she was a year old.
She replaced another female tiger who died from complications after a fight with another tiger in the enclosure.
Mr Dressen said zoo visitors and staff who witnessed the attack were receiving psychological counselling.
The zoo had only recently reopened after being closed by the coronavirus pandemic.
— with The Sun
Originally published as Tiger kills zookeeper in front of crowd