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Tiger nearly tears off arm of volunteer at Big Cat Rescue, organization says

Emergency crews say she is hospitalized with serious injuries. FWC has opened an investigation.

TAMPA, Fla — A tiger nearly tore the arm off a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue, the animal facility announced Thursday.

The nonprofit said Candy Couser, who had been volunteering with the organization for five years, was grabbed by a tiger named Kimba while reaching her arm into a cage to unclip a door during feeding time around 8:30 a.m.

"It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it," Big Cat Rescue wrote in a statement. "Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder."

Another worker heard the commotion and came running as Kimba dropped his grip. A nurse helped stop the bleeding while another person used a belt as a tourniquet.

An ambulance arrived within 15-20 minutes. And, Couser was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital with "serious injuries."

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"Candy was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake," Big Cat Rescue wrote in a statement. "He is being placed in quarantine for the next 30 days as a precaution, but was just acting normal due to the presence of food and the opportunity."

Couser was expected to undergo surgery Friday. According to Big Cat Rescue, she can move her fingers, but her arm is broken in three places and her shoulder is badly damaged. The organization said Couser was conscious but sedated at the hospital.

"Kimba Tiger's rabies and other vaccines are all up to date but he's being kept on quarantine for 30 days anyway to keep an eye on him," Big Cat Rescue wrote in an update Friday morning. "While it's our understanding that the CDC could demand he be killed and tested for rabies, that's unlikely given the fact that he's vaccinated and Candy does not want him to be killed for doing what comes naturally."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed it has opened an investigation.

"We have received a report of an incident that took place at Big Cat Rescue this morning and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Captive Wildlife section is investigating," a spokesperson said. "We will provide additional information as it becomes available."

Big Cat Rescue, which is owned by Carole Baskin, was featured on Netflix's "Tiger King" this spring. The facility said grief counseling would be available for those impacted by the situation.

"All of the volunteers and staff on site today met to discuss what happened. 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," Big Cat Rescue said. "This happened on the day our federal bill to ban cub handling and private possession comes to the House floor for a vote."

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"The fact that, despite our intense safety protocols and excellent record of safety, an injury like this can occur just confirms the inherent danger in dealing with these animals and why we need the Big Cat Public Safety Act to eliminate having them untracked in backyards around the country and ending up in sanctuaries where wonderful people like Candy Couser have committed themselves to providing care for those discarded by the pay to play industry," the facility added.

A photo of Kimba can be found below. Can't see it? Click here.

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