Candy Couser, who has been volunteering at the non-profit organization near Tampa, Florida, for five years, nearly had her arm torn off by a male tiger named Kimba during feeding.
"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 rep for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told ET. "We will provide additional information as it becomes available."
A rep for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue also told ET that FWC is the main agency handling the investigation.
According to a press release from Big Cat Rescue, Couser saw that Kimba was locked in a section different from where he's usually fed, and radio'd the coordinator to find out why. She was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
"Kimba had been locked away from that section for several days as cameras were being installed there. She opened a guillotine tunnel door at one end of the tunnel, and when she went to raise the second door, she saw it was clipped shut," the press release states. "This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist, but Candy said she just wasn't thinking when she reached in to un-clip it. It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it. Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder."
"Jane heard the commotion and came running. Kimba dropped his grip and Candy fell away from the side of the tunnel. Gina being a nurse held off the artery under Candy's armpit to stop the bleeding and Marc, who had pulled Candy to safety, used his belt as a tourniquet as others called for an ambulance. Gina packed her arm in ice packs to try and save it. The ambulance arrived within 15-20 minutes of the accident," the release continues. "Candy was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake. 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."
Big Cat Rescue volunteers and staff on site met shortly after on Thursday to discuss what happened. According to the press release, Baskin 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."
"This happened on the day our federal bill to ban cub handling and private possession comes to the House floor for a vote," the release states. "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 incident comes following Baskin's time on Dancing With the Stars. The Tiger King star, who was partnered with pro Pasha Pashkov, told ET that she hoped by competing on the show it would raise awareness for her work with big cats.
"I want to shout out all of our fans who voted for Pasha and me," she wrote in her final DWTS guest blog for ET. "Your votes are surely what kept me on the show for three episodes and each week resulted in being able to get the message out that we need to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act this year."
"All of those calls and emails made at BigCatAct.com are paying off as we now have a majority of support in the House at 230 cosponsors and 30 cosponsors in the Senate. All we need are 2 minutes on the floor for a vote and we can end cub handling and phase out private possession of big cats," she continued. "Your support for me and Pasha on Dancing With the Stars kept people talking, and calling Congress, and have put us closer to ending the abuse than ever before in the decades it took for us to get to this point in history. Thank you."