Volunteer severely injured after being mauled by tiger at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue

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TAMPA, Fla. — A longtime volunteer was seriously injured after being mauled by a tiger Thursday morning at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, officials said.

Candy Couser, a five-year volunteer at the animal rescue facility, was feeding Kimba around 8:30 a.m. when she reached through the tiger’s enclosure and it grabbed her arm and nearly ripped it from her shoulder, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

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The tiger had been locked away from the feeding area because cameras were being installed. Couser noticed the tiger was locked away from its food but she went against park safety guidelines when she tried to open a second door after seeing it was shut, the Times reported.

“(It) 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,” Baskin told the Times. “It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it.”

Other park volunteers rushed to help Couser while they waited for an ambulance to arrive. Couser was then taken to a hospital with severe injuries.

Kimba, a 3-year-old male tiger, will be quarantined for 30 days as a precaution. Baskin said his behavior is normal and that he was “acting on the presence of food and the opportunity.”

Baskin said Couser did not want any harm to come to the big cat.

“I know everybody feels really bad about this, and we all love Candy so much. (But) it’s that kind of instant misjudgment that could cost you guys a limb or life,” Baskin said. “It was a mistake. It was something that never should have been done in an instant of not thinking.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating.

The facility has been closed to the public because of the coronavirus.

Big Cat Rescue is owned by Baskin, an animal activist who gained notoriety from the Netflix documentary “Tiger King.” In the series, Baskin works to shut down Joseph Maldonado-Passage’s for-profit breeding of big cats. Maldonado-Passage is serving 22 years in prison for killing five tigers and trying to have Baskin killed. In June, a federal judge awarded Baskin ownership of Maldonado-Passage’s private Oklahoma zoo.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.