Doctors were trying to save the left arm of a worker at a central Oklahoma animal park Saturday after a tiger attacked her when she stuck her hand into the giant cat's enclosure.
Joe Schreibvogel, owner of Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, told the Associated Press the woman was in surgery Saturday afternoon at an Oklahoma City hospital
"He tore her arm up pretty bad," Schreibvogel said. "Her entire arm was still attached. It was badly, badly damaged."
Co-workers quickly tended to the woman before she was airlifted to the hospital, he said.
"She pulled her own arm out. The tiger didn't maul her. The tiger was in his cage, and she violated his space by sticking her arm into his space," Schreibvogel said, adding that the park has a strict rule against introducing any body part into a wild animal enclosure.
Schreibvogel withheld the woman's name because he hadn't been able to contact her family. He said she is in her early 20s.
"She's actually the supervisor of the cats. But when you work with these things every day, you tend to let your guard down and think they're pets, that they're like dogs. They're not — they're tigers," he said.
Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma director of the Humane Society of the United States told OKCFox.com that she was not surprised by the incident, alleging that the park has a history of safety and animal welfare issues.
"They are not a legitimate or professionally run operation. They don't have the appropriate accreditation, they don't have a technical staff that knows what they're doing," she said.
Schreibvogel defended the park, saying that this was the first major incident in its history. The park opened in 1997.
"We assume the risk when we work with these animals. We have the right to assume the risk when we work with these animals," he said.
Schreibvogel told AP the tiger, a 14-year-old mixed breed that he rescued, may have thought the woman's jacket was a toy or may have been attracted by the smell of the goose down.
"It could have been a whole lot worse. We're just glad it wasn't. When they took her into surgery, she was talking about coming back to work," Schreibvogel said.
He said the woman's job will be waiting for her.
"She will probably be one of the best leaders now to help make sure safety protocols are followed," Schreibvogel said.
The tiger won't be euthanized, Schreibvogel said.
The park, which was closed after the incident, features big cats, bears, monkeys, zebras and other animals. The mission statement on its website says the park's focus is rescuing "abandoned, misplaced and abused animals, as well as those animals whose owners can no longer care for them." The website claims the park has rescued more than 1,400 animals and placed more than 1,200 in zoos and sanctuaries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report