According to Baskin, who spoke with NBC affiliate WFLA, the volunteer, identified as Candy Couser, was feeding a male tiger named Kimba when the cat grabbed her arm. Baskin says Couser has been volunteering at Big Cat Rescue for five years, so she was no amateur in terms of dealing with the animals.
Medical personnel who attended the scene said the injury was “serious,” and she was taken to a nearby hospital following preliminary treatment.
Baskin claims the incident occurred when Couser saw the tiger was in an area far from where it was normally fed, and she went to open up a gate to let Kimba through.
“When she went to raise the second door she saw it was clipped shut,” Baskin, the sanctuary owner, said in a statement. “This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist, but (she) said she just wasn’t thinking when she reached in to unclip it. 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.”
Once other volunteers heard the commotion and ran over, Kimba dropped Couser’s arm from its mouth, said Baskin. She said a nurse who happened to be on-scene performed basic medical procedures to help stop the bleeding and save the arm, including packing it in ice.
“(She) was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake,” Baskin said in her statement. “He is being placed in quarantine for the next 30 days as a precaution, but was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.”
In a message posted to the sanctuary’s website, the organization says all staff and volunteers working Thursday met to discuss what had taken place, and they have all been offered grief counselling.
According to USA Today, Baskin broke into tears at the meeting, thanking her team for jumping to action in a quick and calm manner.
“You guys did amazing, absolutely amazing,” the publication quotes Baskin as saying. “Thank you so much, because you probably saved her life. And you may have saved her arm. So thank you for being here and doing that… I know everybody feels really bad about this because we all love Candy so much and she’s such a sweet person.”
The statement on the website goes on to address the U.S.’ Big Cat Public Safety Act, which, ironically, is set to be passed by the House of Representatives Thursday. The legislation, championed by Baskin, addresses the trade, ownership and management of big cats.
“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 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,” reads the statement.
Big Cat Rescue is currently closed due to the coronavirus. Another reason for the shutdown is the number of people flocking to the sanctuary following the worldwide fame of Tiger King.
“We don’t know if we will ever resume doing general public tours again,” reads the website. “Even after the virus concerns subside, the betrayal by the liars who produced Tiger King, and the lies viewers were told in the series, creates a concern about having visitors we do not know.”
Baskin became famous earlier in 2020 after being featured in Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, along with eccentric big-cat lover Joe Exotic. The pair were on everybody’s lips throughout the beginning of the year, and it led to various memes and jokes on late-night TV.
Baskin later appeared as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.
Exotic is currently in prison. He was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder for hire for a plot to kill Baskin.