Boss tried to shoot tiger but missed, inquest told

The owner of a wildlife park where a zookeeper was mauled to death by a tiger has described how he fired a shot at the animal and missed.

Sarah McClay was pounced on in the keepers corridor

Glasgow-born Sarah ­McClay, 24, was pounced on in the ­keepers’ corridor of the tiger house at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Cumbria before she was dragged by the back of the neck into a den and then to an outside enclosure.

David Gill, who designed the tiger house and set up the park in Dalton-in-Furness, told an inquest jury how he ran to the scene when he heard on the park radio that male Sumatran tiger Padang “had got Sarah”.

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Fiona McClay, Miss McClay’s mother, from Linlithgow, has attended the hearing since it began on Monday but left the room just before Mr Gill was called to give evidence.

Mr Gill said: “He [the tiger] was looking at me and he was sort of sat there.

“I took real good care to look at Sarah. She didn’t move at all.”

Staff members had retrieved firearms as part of their emergency procedures and he grabbed a shotgun, he said.

A maintenance worker broke down the entrance door followed by Mr Gill as they went into the corridor where Miss ­McClay had been working.

The inquest in Kendal has previously heard that the corridor door to the tigers’ dark den was open, as were two internal gates which allowed the animals to roam in and out to the paddock by day.

The area was made secure as efforts were then made to capture Padang and female Sumatran tiger Alisha, who came in of her own accord. Mr Gill said he then swapped weapons and took a rifle.

He added: “I couldn’t get a clean shot without the risk of shooting her.

“I decided to take a shot at the top of the tiger’s shoulder which was the highest point visible but at the moment the rifle went off the tiger just ran off straight back into the tiger house.”

Both tigers were then confined into the house which was fully locked and bolted, he said.

The jury of six women and four men has heard that systems were in place to ensure that animals and keepers remained apart at all times through lockable self-closing doors.

The court heard that a bolt on the top of the dark den door was found to be defective in the hours following Ms McClay’s death on 24 May last year but it could not be said when the damage occurred.

The tigers were on their weekly fast on the day of Miss McClay’s death but Mr Gill said that lack of food would not have made them “more aggressive”.

The hearing continues.