Mum of mauled zoo keeper levels blame at Council

By Danielle Nicholson -
1 comment

The mother of the zoo keeper killed by a Sumatran tiger at Hamilton Zoo in September has laid the blame for her daughter's death squarely at Hamilton City Council, saying there were several factors that set Samantha up to fail including gates that relied on a counter weight pulley system.

"This organisation has brought about the death of our lovely Samantha," said Judy Stephens.

She said the "circumstances of the day were entirely against" her daughter.

"Samantha was expecting a visitor. It was a dull day and the counter weights [on the gate] blended in with the grey day. When your mind is taken up with something you're trying to attend to, she had to interpret the opposite of what the counter weights told her. They [the keepers] were relying on a counter weight mechanism sighted from a distance. The direct result was that Samantha could not see the gate was still open. My huge regret is that it didn't need to happen."

Last October, a Hamilton News special investigation revealed that an earlier incident at Hamilton Zoo in 2013 where another tiger made its way into the main tiger display enclosure where a keeper was working was also the result of gates being left open.

In that incident, the path taken by tigress Sali as she made her way into the display enclosure where the keeper was preparing to give a tiger talk was through a personnel area fenced only by a non-electrified weed mat-clad 1.8m fence.

Judy Stephens, mother of Samantha Kedeweh. Photo / Nick Reed
Judy Stephens, mother of Samantha Kedeweh. Photo / Nick Reed

Hamilton City Council said at the time the safety of the public was never compromised and pinned the blame on the keeper who left a gate open.

Had the tiger breached the 1.8m fence it would have done so into zoo grounds accessible by staff and could potentially have breached another fence into the public part of the zoo. It is well documented that tigers can jump up to 4 metres.

Hamilton News asked Hamilton City Council if the counter weight mechanism gate system was still in place in the tiger enclosure.

Hamilton City Council general manager community Lance Vervoort said, "we won't be making any comments on matters surrounding Samantha's death until we are at an appropriate point in the court process we're part of".

Mrs Stephens said she had had no reason to believe that Samantha wouldn't be safe at work.

"I had total confidence that Samantha would have everything in place. I didn't think to question anything. Now I have the knowledge that situation could arise, that Samantha could make that decision thinking she was safe to go into the enclosure and she wasn't. She had every right to be safe at work."

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