A tiger nearly bit a volunteer's arm off at Carole Baskin's Big Cat Rescue on Thursday morning in Tampa, Florida.
The volunteer of five years, Candy Couser, was about to feed a tiger named Kimba when he "grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder," Baskin said in an email to BuzzFeed News. Several staff members rushed to help her, pulling her to safety and using a belt as a tourniquet, and then "packed her arm in ice packs to try and save it" until the ambulance arrived.
Prior to the bite, Kimba had been locked in a section of the cage where he usually was not fed. Couser opened a door to the cage that had been clipped shut, which Baskin said is the "universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist."
"Candy said she just wasn't thinking when she reached in to unclip it," Baskin said. "It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it."
Couser was still conscious when she was transported to the hospital, Baskin said, and "insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake."
As a precaution, the tiger is being quarantined for the next 30 days "but was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity," Baskin said.
Volunteers and staff members have met to discuss the incident, and Baskin said she "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." Grief counseling is being offered.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesperson Eric Seidel previously told BuzzFeed News that a person had been bitten by an animal at the sanctuary.
"We treated at the scene and transported the patient to a local hospital with what we would classify as a serious injury," Seidel said.
On Thursday, Congress is set to vote on the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban private ownership of big cats such as tigers, lions, and leopards.
Baskin said Couser's accident shows why this legislation is necessary.
"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," she said, "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."