Tributes to zookeeper killed in tiger incident whose 'passion shone though'

An air ambulance attended the scene
An air ambulance attended the scene

A zookeeper killed after a tiger entered the enclosure she was in has been described as an animal lover who was passionate about her job.

Rosa King was "inspirational" and enjoyed working with her "beloved cats", friends said, while her mother said the 34-year-old "wouldn't have done anything else" as a career.

Rosa King died at Hamerton Zoo Park in Cambridgeshire

Rosa King died at Hamerton Zoo Park in Cambridgeshire

The long-serving zookeeper died on Monday after what was described as a "freak accident" at Hamerton Zoo Park in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Distressed staff are said to have thrown meat into the enclosure in a desperate attempt to help Ms King during the incident on Monday morning.

Her mother Andrea told the Press Association her daughter had worked at the zoo for around 14 years, adding: "She wouldn't have done anything else, it's what she has always done, it's what she has always loved."

Cambridgeshire Police said the tiger had not been killed and was unharmed.

The gates to the attraction, which is in a rural lane surrounded by open fields, were locked on Tuesday morning as an investigation continued.

The zoo, which saw visitors evacuated when the incident occurred, said what happened appeared to have been a "freak accident".

It said: "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."

One witness, Pete Davis, told BBC Radio 5 live: "You could obviously see the keepers were all distressed and, you know, not really knowing what to do, h eads in their hands.

"A couple of them were throwing meat over the enclosure to try and entice the tiger away."

Some of those who knew the killed keeper have paid tribute to a woman they described as a "central point" of the zoo.

Garry Chisholm, 59, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew Ms King through visiting the attraction, said the place revolved around her.

Mr Chisholm, from Irchester, Northamptonshire, said: "Rosa wasn't just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo - she was Hamerton Zoo.

"She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it.

"It revolved around her."

He added: "Her passion for the animals in her care was exceptional, though her favourites were undoubtedly the cheetahs which she would refer to as her pride and joy.

"The only consolation I can take from today's tragic events is that Rosa is now reunited with her beloved Ares the cheetah, and Blizzard and Ladybelle, her beloved tigers."

Philip Caso, a 20-year-old zoology student from Peterborough, got to know Ms King through doing work experience at the zoo each summer and c ommended her conservation efforts.

In a tribute on Facebook he wrote: "I'm literally devastated to hear that one of the most inspirational women I knew died at Hamerton Zoo.

"Rosa loved and respected those animals to the point where each and every one was like a child to her. Her passion for her job has really inspired me and I was just glad I got the chance to know her. Thinking of all the other keepers."

Photographer Hollie Gordon, who said she became friends with Ms King through visits to the zoo, said : "Her passion for the animals, the zoo and conservation really shone through. She loved them all!"

The 24-year-old, from Blackpool, added: "I am in shock by what has happened. Terribly upset and can't quite believe I won't see her again with a big smile on her face and working with her beloved cats."

The case has been referred to Cambridgeshire Coroner's Office and a spokesman said an inquest will be opened next week, with no further information available before then.

Ms King's mother asked that the family's privacy be respected at this time.

A floral tribute left by the entrance sign to the zoo by a woman and child read: "We are so sad to hear of the tragic death of one of your zookeepers. Our thoughts are with all of you here at Hamerton and the lady's family. Rest in peace."

Ms King was a self-confessed fan of big cats, and also raised funds three years ago for a charity helping bears.

Linking to a JustGiving page, through which she raised more than £900, she told donors she was going to skydive for Animals Asia.

She wrote on Facebook: " Those of you who know me and have spoken to me around the Zoo will be aware of my love of big cats, but probably aren't as aware of my love of bears!

"I am a big supporter of the animal charity Animals Asia, who rescue and care for bears effected (sic) by the pet trade and in particular the cruel bear bile trade."