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Tiger nearly bites volunteer's arm off at big cat sanctuary run by Carole Baskin

ABC News logo ABC News 12/3/2020
a tiger in an enclosure: Kimba, one of three tigers that were rescued from a circus in Guatemala, arrives at the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 25, 2019. © Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via Zuma Press, FILE Kimba, one of three tigers that were rescued from a circus in Guatemala, arrives at the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 25, 2019.

A tiger attacked and seriously injured a volunteer at a big cat sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, run by Carole Baskin, who was featured prominently in the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

The Big Cat Rescue volunteer, Candy Couser, was feeding a tiger named Kimba on Thursday when she noticed he had been locked in a section away from where he is usually fed, the sanctuary said in a press release.

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As Couser went to raise the second door of a guillotine tunnel, she noticed it was clipped shut and reached in the enclosure to unclip it when Kimba "grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder," according to the animal rescue.

The clipped door is a "universal signal" to not open a gate without a coordinator to come assist, and it is against protocol for anyone to "stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat it in," the rescue stated.

Carole Baskin standing next to a palm tree: In this July 20, 2017, file photo, Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, walks the property near Tampa, Fla. © Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP, FILE In this July 20, 2017, file photo, Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, walks the property near Tampa, Fla.

The tiger had been locked in that area for several days to allow for cameras to be installed in his feeding section, according to Big Cat Rescue.

Couser has been a volunteer at the rescue center for five years and has been considered a "Green Level Keeper," meaning she cares for the lions and tigers, for almost three years, according to the rescue. She said she "just wasn't thinking" when she went to unclip the door.

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Kimba dropped his grip when another staff member heard the commotion and came running. The fellow employee, who is a nurse, held the artery located under Couser's armpit to stop the bleeding until a third staff member was able to fashion a tourniquet out of his belt, the rescue said. Emergency medical technicians arrived 15 to 20 minutes later, and Couser was conscious when she was taken to the hospital.

Her arm was packed in ice in order to try to save it from amputation, according to the press release.

a woman standing in front of a fence: In this 2018 photo provided by Big Cat Rescue, volunteer Candy Couser smiles before feeding big cats at Carole Baskin's Big Cat Rescue sanctuary near Tampa, Fla. © Big Cat Rescue via AP In this 2018 photo provided by Big Cat Rescue, volunteer Candy Couser smiles before feeding big cats at Carole Baskin's Big Cat Rescue sanctuary near Tampa, Fla.

Kimba is being placed in quarantine for 30 days as a precaution, but Couser has insisted that she did not want "any harm" to come to Kimba due to her mistake, according to the rescue.

The tiger "was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity," the sanctuary said.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident, Melody Kilborn, the public information direction for the southwest region, told ABC News in an email.

Baskin, an animal activist who owns the rescue, was notified of the incident.

"Carole reminded everyone that this sort of tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye and that we cannot relax our guard for a second around these dangerous cats," the press release states.

a tiger in front of a fence: Kimba, one of three tigers that were rescued from a circus in Guatemala, arrives at the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 25, 2019. © Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via Zuma Press, FILE Kimba, one of three tigers that were rescued from a circus in Guatemala, arrives at the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 25, 2019.

In an audio recording released by the rescue, Baskin can be heard describing the ordeal as a mistake and praising staff for saving Couser's life.

Baskin also reminded the staff that they care for the big cats "because of these breeders and dealers that are putting these cats out in the public and abusing them."

In the "Tiger King" docuseries, Baskin aimed to shut down the for-profit breeding of big cats by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known widely as "Joe Exotic." She also participated in the most recent season of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

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