Great Cats World Park under investigation by the USDA after animal keeper was bitten by white tiger

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An animal keeper at the Great Cats World Park was bitten by white tiger and suffered a broken arm. Details about the incident that occurred on June 16th and other issues concerning the park were released this week in a report by Josephine County Animal Protection Officer, David Pitts.

The Mail Tribune reported that two inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited the park last Thursday.

Pitts reported that the park’s general manager told him keeper Sara Romswinckel hadn’t noticed that the tiger’s “den” was unlocked when she pulled a cable opening a “guillotine” door, which in turn allowed the cat, a white Bengal tiger to enter the den. When the tiger then rubbed his face against the gate, it opened, prompting Romswinckel to push her body against it an effort to close the gate, the manager told Pitts.

When the keeper put her arm across the slightly open gate, to gain leverage, the tiger struck. The manager, identified in the report only as “Sarah,” blamed another employee for leaving the tiger’s den unlocked, and blamed Romswinckel for not noticing it was unlocked. Romswinckel suffered fractures and extensive soft-tissue damage.

Pitts reported that the tiger, if it escaped the den, could have jumped over a 6-foot wooden fence.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the agency was looking into the incident to determine if there were any Animal Welfare Act violations.

The biting incident is not the first for the park and its president, Craig Wagner, according to the USDA. Five years ago, during a “photo shoot,” a teenager allowed to handle a tiger and leopard and was bitten by the leopard, according to a USDA complaint filed in 2013.

The complaint alleges several other safety and animal care violations between 2008 and 2011, including lack of adequate barriers between the public and cats on stage. The complaint against the facility is still awaiting hearing, Espinosa said.

In 1993 Wagner was convicted of animal neglect and was warned in 2004 about failing to provide care for three leopards and other animals. In 2004, the park was found guilty in U.S. District Court of conspiring to violate the Endangered Species Act by agreeing to sell endangered ocelots.

Great Cats World Park located in Cave Junction, Oregon, exhibits more than 40 big cats, including lions, leopards and tigers.

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