Tiger attack at Hamilton Zoo

Samantha Kudeweh (Hamilton Zoo)
Samantha Kudeweh (Hamilton Zoo)

Police say a woman killed after a tiger attack at Hamilton Zoo was a senior member of the zoo team and had been a zookeeper for more than 20 years.

Samantha Lynda Kudeweh, 43, of Pirongia, was attacked shortly after 11am today. Two ambulances were called to the zoo, but Ms Kudeweh died on the scene.

The zoo has been closed following the incident.

"Sadly the staff member who was attacked by the tiger has died at the scene," says Senior Sergeant Juliet Burgess. "This is a tragic incident. It is too early to determine what's happened."

She says police are working with the zoo and WorkSafe NZ to investigate. The victim's name was officially released tonight after police advised family members.

Ms Kudeweh was the zoo's curator and had worked previously at Auckland Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Zoo.

Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs said the Sumatran tiger involved in the incident is the zoo's male tiger, Oz.

"He is safely contained in his enclosure," Mr Briggs said in a statement.

"At no time today have any zoo animals not been contained. There has been no risk to visitors at the zoo today or the public.

"Our focus at this time is on providing the adequate support for our staff and family members who have been affected by this tragic incident."

Hamilton Zoo will remain closed until Thursday while investigations are completed and a blessing is arranged.

Mr Briggs said it was a very difficult situation for all zoo staff as well as family members of Ms Kudeweh.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker was rushed to the zoo at around 12:30pm today, reports Fairfax Media.

A witness told 3 News they were watching the tigers in the zoo when they were asked to vacate. All visitors were offered a refund.

Hamilton Zoo is located in the suburb of Rotokauri and was founded in 1969 as a game farm. It is owned by the Hamilton City Council.

A $430,000 Sumatran tiger exhibit was completed in January 2001 and features a large pool, climbing structures and bamboo glades. In March 2001, Wellington Zoo donated three 14-month-old Sumatran tigers. One of the tigers was sent to Auckland Zoo in 2006.

In July 2012, Hamilton Zoo received a four-year-old tiger from Dreamworld on the Gold Coast.

It's not the first time a zookeeper has been fatally attacked in New Zealand. 

In 2009 a keeper was killed at the Zion wildlife park in Whangarei after he was mauled by a white tiger in the enclosure. 

The attack happened when Dalu, an experienced handler, and another keeper were cleaning the cage.

3 News