Regan Schoultz is an NZME news service reporter based in Auckland.

Husband of killed tiger attack victim: 'She wasn't kept safe'

Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh. Photo / Supplied
Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh. Photo / Supplied

Hamilton zookeeper, Samantha Kudeweh, who was tragically killed by a Sumatran tiger last year is understood to have thought the tiger was locked away safely in its night pen when she entered its enclosure.

Mrs Kudeweh, a mother of two young children, died after being attacked by 11-year-old "Oz" in Hamilton Zoo's tiger enclosure on September 20.

Her husband, Richard Kudeweh, said he believed his wife was unaware Oz was in his enclosure when she entered it.

"The big unknown is obviously what might have been going through Sam's mind on the day and how she might have been thinking on the day. There were some things that were known on the day like how busy she was, the weather conditions, visitors coming into the zoo ... and also having to manage the staff at the zoo so there were lots impacts on her day at the time and it all had a bit of a say on what happened," he said.

"In her own mind 100 per cent she thought the tiger was locked away safely in its night pen. What she thought was happening and what was happening were two different things and it was all the facts of the day that created that process."

Today it was revealed WorkSafe New Zealand would prosecute the Hamilton City Council for failing to take all practical steps to ensure the 43-year-old was not exposed to hazards arising out of working with Oz.

Mr Kudeweh said it was a step he was satisfied with and one that may help to change thinking around health and safety.

"I am satisfied that the process has stuck to the given timeframe. This outcome will help change thinking, it is not just where the zoo is concerned but everywhere, in all industries. This highlights something that needs to happen to make the place a better place.

"The problem we have here is that the zoo relies upon procedures with dangerous animals to keep people safe every moment of every day and it is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that we rely on people never making mistakes because people make mistakes."

Mr Kudeweh said his wife hadn't been kept safe and neither had any of her colleagues.

"I think she was expected to do something that she should never have been expected to do and that is what led to what happened. That is why I think there is justification for the council being prosecuted.

"She wasn't kept safe but neither was anyone. Neither is anyone today, they are still not being kept safe," he said.

"The correct things haven't happened to keep people 100 per cent safe. The council have made some changes to the procedure for people working with tigers but there is yet to be an inter-locking gate system put in place which would mitigate life threatening risks."

He said the prosecution was another step towards the investigation being finished.

"Obviously it is part of the procedure which feels like it is getting closer to being finished. It lingers in the back of our heads and continues to play a part in our lives until all these things are finished. It inhibits the things you want to do with your life.

"Until there is a finish and outcome, you live with it every day, you are waiting for that to be dealt with."

The Hamilton City Council said it had not yet decided how it would plead to the charge.

Chief executive Richard Briggs said until the council knew the details of the prosecution and knew how it would plead, no further comment would be made.

"We remain committed to transparency on the outcomes related to Sam's death, and at the appropriate time we will make information available and have further comment."

In the weeks after her death, Samantha's mother Judy Stephens, spoke of her love for her daughter and the heartbreak her death had inflicted on her family.

"Her two children just adored her," Ms Stephens said. "The four of them were just such a lovely family unit and they were just about to build a house so there are lots of decisions to make."

She said her daughter dreamed of being a zookeeper from an early age.

"She just forged her pathway, set her sights and off she went. She was always reading and I guess the books inspired her," she said.

"She was passionate, she was a conservationist and she used her role at the zoo to push those ideas. She was very self-contained and observant and just knew where she wanted to go. She was a remarkable young woman."

- NZ Herald

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