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Husband blames council for keeper death

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 9/06/2016
Samantha Kudeweh © Facebook/Hamilton Zoo Samantha Kudeweh

The husband of a zookeeper mauled to death by a tiger has lashed out at Hamilton City Council, saying it didn't take steps to protect staff after a previous close call.

Hamilton City Council pleaded guilty on Thursday to a charge laid after Samantha Kudeweh, 43, was killed by Oz, an adult male Sumatran tiger in his enclosure at the council-run Hamilton Zoo, last September.

WorkSafe laid charges against the council in March, alleging it had breached the Health and Safety in Employment Act by not taking all practical steps to protect the keeper.

The council admitted the charge in Hamilton District Court and will be sentenced in September. It has sought a restorative justice conference with Ms Kudeweh's family.

Her husband Richard, also a zoo worker, told media outside court the council had done not enough to protect staff after a 2013 incident where a keeper had a narrow escape.

<p style="margin-bottom:1em;padding:0px 0.2em;font-size:13px;">The zoo decided not to euthanise Oz (pictured) after Ms Kudeweh's death.</p><div></div> © Facebook/Hamilton Zoo

The zoo decided not to euthanise Oz (pictured) after Ms Kudeweh's death.

A tiger had followed them through a number of gates and eventually caught up to them, after a gate was mistakenly left open, he said.

"This should have been a major, major wake up call.

"Every effort at that point should have been made to never have that situation occur again and it wasn't, and Sam was killed." 

Mr Kudeweh said the council leadership should have pleaded guilty to the charge immediately after his wife's death, instead of dragging the family through a court process.

"They haven't and in turn have done so much more damage to us," he said.

"It's probably been the most difficult nine months of my life."

The family had lost a mother, a daughter, sister, and a "soulmate".

He hoped the council would develop an understanding of the family's circumstances through the restorative justice process but acknowledged nothing the council did could bring his wife back.

Ms Kudeweh was a senior member of the zoo's team and had been a keeper for more than two decades.

The council faces a possible maximum fine of $250,000.

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