Carole Baskin's Big Cat Rescue sanctuary speaks out after tiger attacks volunteer

Erin Donnelly

A volunteer with the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary owned by Carole Baskin of Tiger King and Dancing with the Stars fame is said to be in serious condition after being attacked by a tiger Thursday morning.

A representative for the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue confirmed that emergency workers were called to Baskin’s property in Tampa, Fla. According to a statement issued by the wild cat sanctuary, a volunteer named Candy Couser had her arm “nearly [torn off] at the shoulder” by a tiger named Kimba after opening the animal’s gate by mistake.

The Big Cat Rescue sanctuary run by animal activist Carole Baskin of Tiger King and Dancing with the Stars fame confirmed that a volunteer was attacked by a tiger Thursday morning. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels /ABC via Getty Images)
The Big Cat Rescue sanctuary run by animal activist Carole Baskin of Tiger King and Dancing with the Stars fame confirmed that a volunteer was attacked by a tiger Thursday morning. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels /ABC via Getty Images)

“This morning, during feeding, Candy Couser, who has been a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue for five years, and a Green Level Keeper (lions, tigers, etc.) for almost three years was feeding Kimba Tiger,” the lengthy statement shares. “She saw that he was locked in a section that was away from where he was usually fed and radioed the coordinator to find out why.

“Kimba had been locked away from that section for several days as cameras were being installed there,” the statement continued. “She opened a guillotine tunnel door at one end of the tunnel, and when she went to raise the second door she saw it was clipped shut. This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist, but Candy said she just wasn’t thinking when she reached in to unclip it. It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it. Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder.”

Kimba is said to have “dropped his grip” on Couser after other sanctuary workers ran to help. Two, one of whom was identified as a nurse, made efforts to stop the bleeding by holding off the artery under her armpit and using a belt as a tourniquet, packing Couser’s arm in ice packs in hopes of saving it. Big Cat Rescue says an ambulance arrived within 15 or 20 minutes of the incident.

According to the statement, Couser, now being treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital, “insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake.”

The organization adds, “he is being placed in quarantine for the next 30 days as a precaution, but was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.”

Big Cat Rescue is offering grief counseling following the incident. While Baskin has not directly spoken out publicly herself, Big Cat Rescue’s statement notes that, in a meeting with staff and volunteers, “Carole reminded everyone that this sort of tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye and that we cannot relax our guard for a second around these dangerous cats.”

The statement also used the attack to highlight the importance of having wild cats protected from private ownership, noting, “his happened on the day our federal bill to ban cub handling and private possession comes to the House floor for a vote.

“The fact that, despite our intense safety protocols and excellent record of safety, an injury like this can occur just confirms the inherent danger in dealing with these animals and why we need the Big Cat Public Safety Act to eliminate having them untracked in backyards around the country and ending up in sanctuaries where wonderful people like Candy Couser have committed themselves to providing care for those discarded by the pay-to-play industry,” it concludes.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has confirmed to Yahoo that it has taken over the investigation.

Big Cat Rescue was featured on Netflix’s Tiger King docuseries earlier this year, which featured Baskin’s work as an animal activist and foil to now-imprisoned zoo operator Joe Exotic.

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