A keeper killed in a “freak accident” after a tiger entered the enclosure she was in has been described as the “shining light” of the zoo where she worked.
Rosa King, who has been named in reports as the Hamerton Zoo Park keeper who died on Monday, was a “lovely lady” who was “absolutely passionate” about the animals in her care, a friend said.
Garry Chisholm, 59, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew Ms King through visiting the attraction in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said the zoo revolved around the keeper.
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.”
Police were called at 11.15am on Monday to reports of a serious incident at the zoo.
A Magpas air ambulance was on the scene 20 minutes later and visitors were evacuated from the attraction just before midday on Monday.
An East of England Ambulance Service paramedic crew and two rapid response vehicles also attended.
Mr Chisholm said: “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.
“I feel privileged to have known Rosa and been able to call her a friend.
“She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her.
“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.”
The zoo said it appeared to have been a “freak accident” and it would remain closed on Tuesday as an investigation continues.
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.”
People took to social media to express their condolences following the keeper’s death.
One user posted on Twitter: “Terrible news about the keeper at Hamerton Zoo. Such an awful shock for everyone RIP.”
Another wrote: “A zookeeper sadly died earlier today at Hamerton Zoo. So tragic, their life was taken too soon. RIP.”
Cambridgeshire Constabulary said the tiger involved was believed to be fine, as Twitter users expressed fears over what would happen to the animal.
Witness Jeff Knott, 32, from Cambridgeshire, said staff had been “a real credit” to the zoo during the evacuation.
He said: “We had been in the zoo since about 10.30am and heard/seen nothing until asked to leave about 11.45am.
“Staff were very calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner - no running, shouting or anything similar.”