Woman nearly loses arm at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue in Florida

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A female volunteer who regularly feeds big cats was bitten and seriously injured by a tiger Thursday morning at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida, which was made famous by the Netflix series “Tiger King,” officials said.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue received a trauma alert call about 8:30 a.m. Thursday from the sanctuary, agency spokesman Eric Seidel told The Associated Press.

Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, said in an email to the AP that the volunteer, Candy Couser, 69, was feeding a 3-year-old male tiger named Kimba when she noticed the animal was not in his usual location. Baskin said Couser opened a gate that had been clipped shut but she reached in to unclip it.

In this 2018 photo provided by Big Cat Rescue, volunteer Candy Couser smiles before feeding big cats at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue sanctuary near Tampa, Fla. Couser, who regularly feeds big cats was bitten and seriously injured by a tiger Thursday morning, Dec. 3, 2020, at the sanctuary, which was made famous by the Netflix series “Tiger King,” officials said. (Big Cat Rescue via AP) (Big Cat Rescue)

“This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate” without assistance, Baskin said. “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,” Baskin added.

Couser was taken to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries after staff and other volunteers at Big Cat Rescue sought to stop the bleeding, Baskin said. Later Thursday, Baskin said Couser’s arm was broken in three places and her shoulder was badly injured but she was able to move her fingers. Surgery was scheduled later in the day.

Kimba, who was brought to the center from a circus, will be placed in quarantine for the next 30 days, but Baskin said the tiger was “just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.” Baskin said Couser did not want Kimba to suffer any consequences for the incident and Baskin said the tiger’s vaccinations, including for rabies, were up to date.