Inquest into death of Hamerton Zoo keeper opens

Rosa King.
Rosa King.

A Hamerton Zoo keeper suffered “traumatic injuries” when she was mauled to death by a tiger, a coroner said today (Wednesday).

Rosa King, 33, was fatally attacked by the wild animal after it entered an enclosure she was in during a “freak accident” at Hamerton Park Zoo near Huntingdon.

An inquest into her death was adjourned as an investigation is currently under way between the police and the market town’s local authority to establish the circumstances of the incident on May 29.

Senior Coroner David Heming revealed the cause of death found by a post-mortem examination on her body carried out by Dr Martin Goddard on May 31 at the opening of the inquest into her death.

The coroner said a jury inquest will be heard because her death was a “work-place inquest” and said: “The cause of death is given as 1A traumatic injuries.

“The current position is that there’s an ongoing investigation as to the circumstances to how the tiger come into direct contact with Rosa.

“Given that this is a work place incident this will necessitate a jury inquest.”

Reading from a Huntingdon police constable’s statement who identified Rosa’s body after attending the incident at 3pm, he said: “I attended Hamerton Zoo Park where I saw the lifeless body of Rosa King.

“The body of Rosa was identified by Andrew Swales who stated he was the employer of the deceased and had known Rosa for 15 years.”

The short hearing was adjourned for a pre-inquest review hearing on November 23, 2017.

The coroner said: “It’s fair to say that if the investigation is completed prior to the date, that hearing may be brought forward and we will alert the press.”

Earlier he paid condolences to the family of Rosa King.

Opening the inquest into her “tragic death” he said: “First if I could extend my sympathies and condolences to Peter and Andrew, the mother and father of Rosa and to other members of the family.”

Her parents Peter, 56, and Andrea, 54, had earlier described their daughter a “very caring, generous person” who was living her dream looking after wild animals.

A statement released by the family said: “Peter and Andrea, the proud parents of Rosa King, would like to thank all those that have shown an abundance of love and sympathy at the passing of our beloved daughter.

“Rosa was a dedicated professional when it came to her work.

“She lived and breathed a vocation that meant the world to her, living her dream.

“She had a care and understanding of her animals that was a joy and privilege to behold.

“As well as our daughter, Rosa was a big sister to her brother Mark, who like his parents, had nothing but love and admiration for her.

“Rosa was passionate about animals from the age of two when she first sat on the back of a horse.

“After that, her life was always going to be about animals.

“She lived her life to the full and was a very caring, generous person.”

The zoo confirmed the tiger that killed her will not be put down after describing the incident as a “freak accident”.

Hundreds of people had backed an online petition calling for it to be saved following her death.

It’s not yet known which of the four tigers is responsible for Rosa’s death, but the park is home to four - White tigers Mohan and Shiva and Malayan tigers Cicip and Sahaja.

A statement posted on the park’s Facebook site said: “We have received a number of enquiries from members of the public asking about the tiger following last weeks incident.

“After extensive consultation with the staff at the zoo, we have decided not to put down the tiger.

“This decision has been fully supported by Rosa’s family.

“We are awaiting the findings of the investigation to fully understand what happened before we take further action on this matter.

“If we receive regulatory or professional guidance to the contrary, we will review our position.”

The family, from Chippenham, Wiltshire, described how Rosa felt it important to raise money for animal charities as she wanted to “stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves”.

The statement continued: “Rosa completed a skydive in 2014 to raise money for Animal Asia and then travelled to China to visit the sanctuary for Moon bears to see for herself the work they do, and just recently returned from a visit to a Sun bear rehabilitation centre in Borneo.

“Rosa’s whole attitude to the animal kingdom is probably best summed up in the following statement.

“When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.”

The incident came four years after inspectors had raised concerns over “ageing” fencing and safety barriers and “escape protocol” procedures in a 2013 report.

But a spokesman for Huntingdonshire District Council - responsible for licensing the zoo - confirmed “all of the conditions on that report were fully complied with”.

The zoo’s licence was renewed until in 2019.

The wildlife park opened in June 1990 and covers 25 acres.

It includes enclosures for Malaysian tigers, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, wolves, corsac foxes, kangaroos as well as a variety of birds, reptiles and domestic animals.

The zoo opened a new enclosure for its Malaysian tigers in July last year.

In October 2008 a cheetah which escaped from the park was found by a nine-year-old boy in the back garden of his family home.

Keeper Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a tiger at Cumbria’s South Lakes Safari Zoo in May 2013.