The female zookeeper mauled to death by a tiger was a passionate wildlife campaigner who freely admitted: “They belong in the wild too”
Rosa King, 33, was killed on Bank Holiday Monday when the big cat entered an enclosure she was working in at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire.
Desperate colleagues were seen hurling meat towards the tiger in a bid to distract it but Rosa was declared dead at the zoo.
Her death has been described by devastated staff as a “freak accident”.
A relative told the Sun : “She loved those animals – it’s absolutely tragic.
“She would walk in the cheetah cage and play football with them. She was at home with them.”
Rosa clearly loved her job at Hamerton, posting frequent pictures of her feeding tigers and looking after cheetahs.
Her brother Mark posted an image of Rosa with one of her cheetahs alongside Sir David Attenborough adding: “How awesome can you get?”
The zookeeper also appears to have been a fervent supporter of Tiger Time, a UK-based charity which campaigns to ban the trade in tigers.
In 2012 she signed a petition launched by TigerTime and tweeted: “I have t pleasure of wkin w/tigers @HamertonZoo. It shouldnt b t only place 2 c them, they belong in t wild too!!”
Friends posted tributes to an “amazing person” who died “doing what she loved”.
One wrote: “So sad, always a smile on her, thoughts to her family, friends and staff at Hammerton Zoo, doing what she loved, God bless, you will be missed.”
Another added: “Very sad news, she was an amazing person when I spent a few weeks working with her and the keepers at Hamerton, she taught me a lot in a short space of time. I’ll always remember my time there and her.”
It remains unclear which tiger was involved in the tragic incident and what has happened to the animal as a result.
The park is home to four in total: Bengal tigers Shiva and Mohan and Malaysian tigers Cicip and Sahaja.
Hamerton also has enclosures for cheetahs, wolves, corsac foxes and kangaroos, as well as a variety of birds, reptiles and domestic animals.
The zoo opened a new enclosure for its Malaysian tigers in July last year.
Pete Davies, 55, was at the zoo with his partner and son when the incident happened.
He said: “We were at the tiger enclosure and there was a guy who was ahead of us with a camera taking photos of animals.
“He was in the next closure, he came running past us really quickly.
“Then he came back with a few zoo keepers to the viewing area of where the tiger was, and then we heard a girl screaming and another one said run to us so we found a small room and stayed there until it was safe to leave.”
“The zoo keepers had their heads in their hands, and didn’t know what to do, throwing meat over the enclosure to entice the tiger away. They shouted stuff.
“It went on for too long. Then we were ushered out and left.
“We didn’t see anything because it happened behind a mound of grass. It seems like a tiger has turned on a zoo keeper.”
A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said: “Officers attended a serious incident at Hamerton Zoo Park, Steeple Girding, at around 11.15am today.
“A tiger had entered an enclosure with a keeper. Sadly the female zoo keeper died at the scene.
“At no time did the animal escape from the enclosure.
“The incident is not believed to be suspicious.”
Staff said they were left “distressed” after the attack and confirmed the zoo would remain shut on Tuesday.
A statement read: “This appears to have been a freak accident.
“A full investigation is currently underway and we hope that more details can be announced as soon as we are able.
“At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures, and at no point was public safety affected in any way.
“All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time.”
Hamerton Zoo visitors spoke of “absolute chaos” as the site was evacuated following reports of a tiger attack amid blood-curdling screams.
Charlie Hawthorn, 18, from Northampton, told Mirror Online of chaotic scenes as zookeepers evacuated visitors from the park.
He said: “When we were going into the zoo there were zookeepers came rushing over telling us there’d been a serious incident and everyone needed to get out.
“Then they actually let us back in for around 15 or 20 minutes before the zookeepers started running around in a bit more of a panic and saying everyone had to get out.
“There were three ambulances, an air ambulance helicopter, police, it looked like a big incident.”
Eyewitness Victoria Northover Holmes added: “Some of the keepers came running down the hill towards the next tiger enclosure.
“We didn’t know what was happening but they looked worried. I carried on walking down the hill towards the next enclosure when someone shouted ‘run’.
“We could see staff members on the other side of the fence with pieces of meat trying to get whatever’s attention. It was heartbreaking seeing them trying to help.”