Reporter: Stephanie Dukes
Update: A hungry tiger bites a zookeeper. The employee is now out of the hospital and will be alright, but the Palm Beach Zoo is carefully looking at how and why this happened.
The keeper, Susie Nuttall, is home from the hospital Monday night with stitches on one of her middle fingers. Zoo officials say zookeepers use food to coax the tigers into their nighttime cage. But the way they do that may need to change.
Susie Nuttall was training Mata the tiger by giving her a reward for positive behavior. But when she handed the food through an opening in the steel cage, her finger nearly became part of the meal. "The cat not being malicious, not trying to go after the finger, tried to eat the meat the keeper had, and, unfortunately, nipped the tip of her finger," says zoo spokesperson Keith Lovett.
Zoo officials say the injury was minor and no part of the finger was actually bitten off. But they have certain rules for feeding big cats, and they plan to find out why Nuttall's fingers ended up inside the cage. "We don't have a protocol where fingers can extend into the mesh, so we need to figure out how the fingers got into the mesh."
Officials say they prefer the type of training Nuttall was conducting with Mata because it builds the relationship between the keeper and the animal. But this incident has Palm Beach Zoo officials questioning whether keepers should be extending their hands toward dangerous, carnivorous animals at all. "We're gonna review all our protocols to see what we can do to prevent even the most minimal of accidents from happening."
Per zoo policy for dealing with dangerous animals dealing with dangerous animals, a second employee was with Nuttall when it all happened.
Zoo officials say the keeper still has some soreness, but, overall, she's doing better. She may be able to return to work later this week.
Previously: A tiger at the Palm Beach Zoo bites a trainer during feeding.
The trainer was feeding "Mata" when the tiger bit her finger. Zoo officials haven't released the extent of her injuries. Right now, the zoo wants to know whether the trainer broke any rules during feeding or if it needs to change its feeding procedures.