Topeka Zoo visitor describes tiger attack scene

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A Topeka zookeeper is lucky to be alive following a terrifying encounter this weekend when she was attacked by one of the zoo’s tigers. Now we’re hearing from a woman who was at the zoo when the attack happened. 

Philicia McKee was at the zoo on Saturday for an early Earth Day celebration. Then she heard a zoo employee yelling for  help.

“Some lady came out and said there was a tiger loose, so I thought, uh oh we’ve got to find some place to hide. I was getting a little worried, you know you do these weird things when you’re panicking it’s like out of body experience,” McKee said.     

She quickly found out it wasn’t a tiger getting loose at all. Instead the tiger had gotten into the enclosure where a keeper was working and attacked her.

“I mean it felt like hours but it was just minutes, and almost immediately I heard the sirens of the ambulance coming. I was so impressed with the way it was handled and the way the zookeepers were following, you know, you could tell it was protocol that they were following,” McKee said.  

Zoo Director Brendan Wiley said it was exactly that quick thinking that helped the keeper escape from the tiger. 

“Each department just went into action with what they were supposed to do. Within ten minutes from start to finish that tiger was secure inside an adjoining area and medical personnel were rushing to the aid of our keeper,” Wiley said.  

To stop the attack other workers were able to lure the tiger away with food. The zookeeper was treated for multiple cuts and puncture wounds to her head, neck, back, and arm. She was rushed to the hospital.

“Somehow our staff person made it out of this alive. In terms of how I’m feeling, just thankful that happened,” Wiley said.  

“I’m just so thankful and appreciative that she survived and hopefully it will not be as serious as we felt like in the beginning when we heard about being attacked by a tiger,” McKee said.  

Wiley said that he and his staff are currently re-evaluating their policies and procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The zookeeper spent two days in the intensive care unit of Stormont-Vail Hospital. Now she’s in stable condition and has been moved to a different unit. 

Dr. Clayton Wood, an emergency room physician at Stormont-Vail explained what that move means for patients. 

“I mean it’s good. Obviously stepping down from the ICU to one of our lower-acuity floors means they are improving and they don’t need as much attention. So it only means progress,” Wood said, “Sometimes they go back to the ICU or sometimes they go home or to a rehab facility.”

Dr. Wood also said with large animal attacks there are unique risks of infection from their bites or scratches.

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