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Rescuers had to wait to aid Fla. zookeeper

A lead zookeeper at the Palm Beach Zoo has died after being mauled by a tiger
A lead zookeeper at the Palm Beach Zoo has di... 01:49

WEST PALM BEACH- For three years, Stacey Konwiser pursued her passion at the Palm Beach Zoo - working with the zoo's 4 Malayan tigers.

On Friday, as she prepared behind the scenes for her routine "Tiger Talk" with the public at 2 p.m., something went terribly wrong with one of the tigers she worked with.

Palm Beach Zoo spokesperson Naki Carter would not say exactly what happened other than the attack occurred in a "night house" where the tigers eat and sleep.

One of the tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo CBS News

Carter said that immediately after the attack a code red was established.

The tiger was tranquilized, but rescuers had to wait until the drugs took effect on the animal before they could rescue Konwiser.

She was airlifted to a hospital, where she died a short time later.

Carter said Konwiser - whose husband is also a zookeeper at the zoo - inspired others by her dedication to these animal and desire to keep them from going extinct.

An undated photo shows Stacey Konwiser and her husband, Jeremy. Palm Beach Zoo

"She was a tiger person," Carter said. "Stacey spoke a language it seemed and they spoke a language with her, that was a dialogue that only they understood."

Zoo officials said no visitor to the zoo was ever in danger and no animal ever got loose.

CBS4 was told this is the first time a human has been killed by an animal in the zoo's history.

Ron Magill, from Zoo Miami, said you cannot blame the tiger for what happened.

"I think one of the things people have to understand here is that this is not the tiger's fault," Magill said. "For a tiger to behave this way - it's a tiger being a tiger."

At the Palm Beach Zoo, grief counselors will be on hand in the coming days to help those who knew Konwiser deal with her sudden death.

"We are grieving at this time," Carter said. "On behalf of all of us, from the keepers, from those of us that knew this victim, we want her family to know that our thoughts and prayers are with her."

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the zoo said the male tiger involved in the deadly incident has recovered from the tranquilizer he was given. Members of Palm Beach Zoo management met with staff early Saturday to mourn together. A note of support was read from Konwiser's husband, Jeremy, also a keeper at Palm Beach Zoo. The Zoo is working with family members to establish a memorial fund in Konwiser's honor.

We're told the tiger remains here at the zoo and it's unclear what will happen with him.

The zoo will be closed this weekend while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and local agencies in West Palm Beach investigate and speak with witnesses and workers to try and determine what happened and why.

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