The zookeeper killed by a Sumatran tiger at Hamilton Zoo was a respected conservationist and mother of two.
The family of zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh have released a statement thanking the public and the global zoo and conservation community for their messages of support since she was mauled by the zoo's male tiger Oz on Sunday morning.
It said the 43-year-old was recognised and respected globally as a talented, passionate and highly knowledgeable conservation and zoo professional whose expertise and understanding of animals was highly sought after by other zoos and captive animal breeding programmes.
"Samantha was a passionate conservationist, and today her family have recalled how, as an intermediate school student, she told her parents she wanted to work in the zoo sector," said Ms Kudeweh's colleague Catherine Nichols, speaking on behalf of the family.
"She was a volunteer at Auckland Zoo for a number of years before joining the staff."
Ms Kudeweh was married to fellow zoo professional Richard Kudeweh and had two children Billy, 9, and Sage, 3.
She moved from Auckland Zoo to Hamilton Zoo in 2005 where she started as the mammals team leader.
She was promoted to zoo curator in 2011, achieving one of her professional dreams in a role that gave her the opportunity to become involved in a number of species management programmes, an area of conservation which she had a passion for.
The family asked for privacy while they grieve and make arrangements for her farewell.
Meanwhile, police, WorkSafe and the Ministry for Primary Industries are all investigating the incident.
Almost 5000 people have taken to Facebook to call for the tiger's life to be spared.
"Oz is being a tiger and his space was being encroached so beware!", Pam Hawkins posted.
"Condolences to the keeper's family, colleagues and friends. Working with wild animals comes with known risks, please don't kill the tiger for being a tiger," Becky Moorhead wrote.
Oz is contained in his enclosure and no decision has been announced as to his fate. The zoo will be closed until Thursday.
Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs says it was a difficult situation for staff and family.
The council is focusing on supporting them, while the investigations are completed, he said.