Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

'Plea won't bring Sam back'

Probe after fatal tiger attack found safety faults at zoo.

September 20, 2015, was just another working day for Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh.

It was a wet Sunday morning and one of the 43-year-old's first tasks was feeding the tigers, cheetahs, wild dogs and other carnivores.

About 9am, she went and fed the tigers. Both Oz, the male, and Mencari, the female, were fed in separate dens.

She then left. But for a reason nobody will ever know, she didn't shut the gates between the outside tiger enclosure and the den, meaning Oz could roam freely.

About 10am, Mrs Kudeweh returned to the tiger enclosure. At some stage after that, Oz spotted her. He then attacked her, killing her instantly.

The Hamilton City Council was charged over the incident and yesterday in the Hamilton District Court, through lawyer Mark Hammond, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of Mrs Kudeweh while at work.

Council was convicted and remanded to reappear for sentencing in September.

Judge Sharon Otene also ordered a restorative justice conference to take place between the council and Mrs Kudeweh's family.

The court heard the details of Mrs Kudeweh's last moments at the zoo. Zoo reception staff knew something was wrong when they tried to get hold of Mrs Kudeweh and didn't receive an answer. Her colleague, Sarah Jones, discovered Mrs Kudeweh dead inside the enclosure. Oz was sitting next to her body, while her cap and portable radio were found nearby.

Ms Jones safely lured Oz away from Mrs Kudeweh's body using his favourite toy.

Outside court, Mrs Kudeweh's husband Richard said the guilty pleas didn't yet provide any closure for the family because the process was still dragging on.

"It probably didn't matter ... if there was a guilty plea or if there wasn't because there was an opportunity for [council] to own the responsibility, which they were aware of, and they haven't and so we've had to come down this track."

Mr Kudeweh wasn't expecting much out of the September sentencing, and said he was frustrated by the council's lack of support.

"There's no amount of anything that the council can give to us that's going to make a significant difference in terms of bringing Sam back, because that can't happen, we accept that, that's just something that's not going to happen, but we need to get on with our lives, considering we will have to make some incredibly dramatic changes to make that possible."

Council deputy chief executive Lance Vervoort said the council had done everything it could for the family so far, including financially and personally.

"We feel that we have provided an appropriate amount of support, there will be differing opinions and we continue to have conversations around that but they remain confidential."

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

What the council should have done

The Worksafe investigation found five areas where Hamilton City Council had overlooked vital security measures that could have saved Samantha Kudeweh's life, including:

• Implementing a two-keeper system with dangerous animals, in particular the Sumatran tigers, as it could have provided vital procedures about cross-checking by both staff that the gates were locked when required.

• Keeping the main keeper gate in its original position so keepers could see if the tigers were contained before entering.

• Painting the grey-coloured counter-weights on the cat chute sliding gates a bright colour to be more visible.

• Having mechanical interlock devices on all the gates, including the main keeper gate, at the tiger enclosure.

• Having more signage to remind keepers to make sure tigers were secure.

- NZ Herald

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