Cumbria tiger attack: Sarah McClay 'dragged' into pen

Sarah McClay Sarah McClay died at Royal Preston Hospital

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A zoo keeper who died after being mauled by a tiger may have been "dragged" into a pen, police said.

Sarah McClay, 24, was attacked by a Sumatran tiger in an enclosure at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, near Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, on Friday.

Cumbria Police said a tiger got from its pen to a staff area of the enclosure where it attacked Ms McClay.

Detectives said either "human or mechanical" error could have led to the tiger being in the staff area.

Ms McClay was taken to Preston Royal Hospital where she died of head and neck injuries.

Park owner David Gill said after the attack there was "no reason" for Ms McClay to be in the enclosure with the tigers.

'No foul play'

Det Chief Insp Bob Qazi, of Cumbria Police, aid: "It is vitally important that we discover what exactly happened in the big cat enclosure building that led to Sarah coming into contact with the tiger.

"I want to emphasise there is no suggestion of any foul play or any issue of suicide or self-harm from the enquiries we have made and evidence we have.

"What has become apparent from our enquiries is that Sarah was going about her routine duties and was in the staff section of the enclosure building, which animals are not allowed access to, when a tiger has entered it from an adjacent pen and confronted her.

"The tiger has then attacked Sarah, taking her from the building into the open-air external enclosure area where Sarah was left and later attended by staff and paramedics.

The park's owner said Ms McClay was passionate about her job. Tiger photo is file image from Edinburgh Zoo

"We are still trying to establish exactly how and why the tiger has been able to get from the pen into the staff area and at the moment believe this to be because of a human or system error, or mechanical failing, or combination of both."

Police said compartments in the tiger enclosure were connected by lockable doors but systems in place to ensure staff and animals were kept apart had "failed".

Mr Gill said Ms McClay, who is originally from Glasgow, was a "very experienced" staff member who had worked with big cats and was "proficient and passionate" at her job.

Mr Gill described Ms McClay as a "bubbly, happy girl" and described her death as a "tragedy for her family and all the staff".

Park re-opened

After the attack the park was closed early and visitors evacuated from the area. It reopened on Saturday.

Mr Gill said: "The public were not at risk and we followed all our accident procedures to the letter.

"We had a meeting of all staff at 5.30pm and asked what they wanted. There was a huge consensus of opinion that we carry on.

"It would not do any good to close the park as there is no safety issue."

He said the Sumatran tiger, which has lived at the park for 10 years since it was a cub, would not be destroyed.

A statement released by Ms McClay's family thanked paramedics for their "valiant" efforts to save her.

The family has set up a donation site in her memory to support red squirrel conservation.

The statement said: "We'd like to thank you all for your kind words. We are still coming to terms with what has happened.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank the valiant efforts of Cumbria Ambulance Service, the North West Air Ambulance and the Royal Preston Hospital.

"Investigations are ongoing and it may be some time before a full picture emerges of what happened and how this tragic accident came to pass."

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