Kansas zookeeper recovering after tiger attack in Topeka zoo

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KAKE) -

The Topeka Zoo has released the identity of the zookeeper injured after a Sumatran Tiger, named Sanjiv, attacked her inside an exhibit last week. 

Kristyn Hayden-Ortega is still recovering in a Topeka hospital. 

Zoo Director, Brendan Wiley, says he now has more information and a better understanding of the attack. About 9:15 Saturday morning, a volunteer was stationed in front of the tiger exhibit when she noticed something wrong.

"Kristyn being in the outdoor tiger exhibit and a Sumatran tiger approaching Kristyn in that same space," says Wiley.

The volunteer immediately told other zoo employees, who were able to call for help. Within ten minutes, animal care staff was able to get the tiger back inside an enclosed area. 

"If that tiger would have taken one more turn back towards Kristyn, it would have been...lethal force would have been used," says Wiley. 

Wiley says it's normal for keepers to be inside the exhibit, but they shouldn't ever enter unless the animal is in another secure area. He wouldn't say how or why Hayden-Ortega was inside the exhibit at the same time as Sanjiv, but he would say he doesn't believe the enclosure is to blame.

"We were 100% confident in the infrastructure of that facility when we put tigers back into it later that day," says Wiley. 

Shanna Simpson is now one of the keepers who will care for Sanjiv in Hayden-Ortega's absence. 

"There's a few of our staff that are struggling to step foot in that area and that's okay. We're gonna give them the time that they need," says Simpson. 

Zoo leaders say they aren't considering euthanizing Sanjiv. Wiley says Sumatran tigers are extremely endangered and only between 400 and 500 still exist in the wild.  

"The tiger did nothing wrong. The tiger was just simply being a tiger," says Wiley.

The zoo says it is still investigating the incident and is working on improving its safety protocols moving forward. 

Wiley say he is unsure whether or not Hayden-Ortega will return to work at the zoo once she has recovered. 

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