On Thursday, a regular volunteer at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue sanctuary was seriously injured when she was bit while feeding a tiger named Kimba. The woman, Candy Couser, reportedly unlatched a gate that was supposed to be secured after noticing that the Kimba was not in its usual place and Kimba “grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder,” Baskin said in a statement to the Associated Press.
In her statement, Baskin, the chief executive of Big Cat Rescue, blamed the attack on Couser’s breach of protocol. “This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate” without assistance, Baskin statement said. “It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it.”
Baskin rose to national prominence in the Netflix documentary Tiger King which followed Joe Maldonado aka Joe Exotic at his big cat zoo. (Maldonado is currently serving 22 years in prison for a murder-for-hire plot in which he tried to have Baskin killed.) Baskin’s sanctuary claims to be an answer to venues like Maldonado’s, which exploit and breed big cats in order to financially benefit from renting out the cubs. The injury to Couser at Big Cat Rescue occurred on the same day the House of Representatives is set to vote on one of Baskin’s bills, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban handling of big cat cubs and personal ownership of big cats in places like backyards.
The attack at Baskin’s sanctuary is an example of why big cats should not be kept as bets or handled by humans, she says. “This sort of tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye and we cannot relax our guard for a second around these dangerous cats,” Baskin said. According to the Humane Society, there have been more than 300 dangerous incidents involving big cats since 1990, resulting in four children being killed and dozens of others losing limbs or suffering other traumatic injuries; meanwhile, 16 adults have been killed by big cats in the same time period and "scores have been mauled."
Viewers of Tiger King saw that danger firsthand. Footage of one of Joe Exotic’s employees, Saff Saffrey, being mauled by one of the cats aired in episode two of the series. Saff is given the choice of facing years of reconstructive surgery or amputation; he chooses the latter so he can get back to working with the big cats.
Couser was treated for serious injuries at a local hospital and Kimba will be quarantined for the next 30 days. Baskin’s statement indicated that Couser does not want the tiger to be punished or harmed for an incident that Baskin described as “just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity.”