She described the arrival of a male Sumatran tiger at Hamilton Zoo and subsequent birth of two cubs as a "career highlight". Yesterday, the male big cat took her life.
Samantha Lynda Kudeweh, 43, was fatally attacked by the tiger, Oz, shortly after 11am.
Ms Kudeweh, known as Sam, held the title of zoo curator. She had more than 20 years' experience in the field, with extensive knowledge of a wide range of animal species.
Oz was transferred to Hamilton Zoo from Auckland as part of the Global Species Management plan for the endangered Sumatran tigers, and Ms Kudeweh spoke at the time of her excitement.
She said she and other staff were excited to contribute to the conservation effort, which soon after heralded the birth of his two cubs - Kirana and Kembali.
"This is a career highlight for me and the rest of the team involved," she wrote. "It's very exciting for the zoo and the species."
Before moving to Hamilton, Ms Kudeweh worked at Auckland Zoo for eight years, and at zoos in Australia.
In a personal bio she wrote: "For me the best thing about my role is the opportunities to interact with other species one to one, but there is a down side and that is having to say goodbye to animals. That part never gets any easier. "My favourite animal is the rhino, but I also have a soft spot for whoever is behaving!"
Yesterday, Ms Kudeweh was dead by the time emergency services arrived at the Rotokauri zoo shortly after they were notified at 11.02am.
Last night, details about how the tiger could have got close enough to harm her were not being revealed by the zoo or emergency services.
An animal rights group hit out at the zoo's safety protocols, saying a significant failure had cost the keeper her life.
Melbourne visitor Adam Rich said he saw a female keeper in the tiger enclosure shortly before the attack.
"There was a keeper in there who opened up the gate so the tigers could leave the inside area to go to the outside area," he said.
A Meet the Keeper talk by Hamilton Zoo's tiger handlers was meant to be held at noon, but visitors were instead asked by "panicky" staff shortly after 11am to leave.
"I thought an animal had escaped but they guaranteed that an animal did not escape," Mr Rich said.
An announcement was then broadcast asking all visitors to leave and collect a refund.
Soon afterwards, it was revealed Oz, who has been at the zoo since 2013, had fatally attacked the zoo keeper after she somehow came face to face with him.
St John, police and the Fire Service rushed to the scene but nothing could be done for Ms Kudeweh.
"This is a tragic incident. It is too early to determine exactly what's happened," said Senior Sergeant Juliet Burgess of Waikato police.
A veterinarian was also dispatched to the enclosure and Oz - along with all the other tigers - was "contained".
The zoo is owned by Hamilton City Council. Chief executive Richard Briggs would not be drawn on whether Oz would be euthanised.
The concept of putting Oz down appalled SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek. "It should not be put down ... it's a big predatory animal and the trainer should not have been [accessible to it].
"You can't punish an animal for what it has done."
Mr Kriek said either the zoo's procedures were not strict enough or not adhered to "because clearly a mistake happened here ... We hope [zoos] learn from it but unfortunately this seems to happen on an all too frequent basis and it's a lethal mix; big predators and human beings. It's key that procedures are followed."
Ms Burgess, Mr Briggs and Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker fronted a press conference at the zoo at 2pm, but cited the multiple investigations underway into the tragedy as preventing any details being revealed about how Oz got close enough to harm the keeper.
Police, WorkSafe and the Ministry for Primary Industries - which has jurisdiction over the captivity of zoo animals - were all investigating.
Mr Briggs said no visitors were near the enclosure at the time of the attack and at no point was any member of the public in danger.
Although the horrific death was the first fatality at the zoo, it was not the first time a keeper had accidentally come into contact with tigers there. In 2013, a keeper walked 10m into an enclosure she thought was empty before finding herself alone with a 5-year-old female tiger.
When the tigress spotted the woman she ran "playfully" up to the keeper and swatted her gumboots, before the keeper, who didn't panic, exited the enclosure.
Attacks at zoos
•Lion keeper Dalu Mncube was killed in May 2009 at Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Gardens by a 260kg white tiger. The park was later ordered to pay $60,000 to his partner after pleading guilty to breaching workplace health and safety rules.
•In April 2012, visitors and staff watched on as zoo keeper Dr Helen Schofield was killed by an elephant at Franklin Zoo. She died when the 39-year-old African elephant Mila picked her up after Dr Schofield entered its enclosure.
•At Wellington Zoo in 2006, keeper Bob Bennett tripped inside the lion enclosure and was set upon by two lions. He was rushed to hospital with more than 20 puncture wounds.
•Also in Wellington, a mentally ill man jumped into the tiger enclosure in 2003. The attack was seen by school children. The man needed almost nine hours of surgery but survived.