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Mauled zoo worker says she was at fault

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Kelci Saffery, a former Waimanalo woman mauled by a 500-pound tiger on Saturday, is doing remarkably well considering her left arm was "badly mangled," the owner of an Oklahoma animal park said this week.

Saffery, a 27-year-old zoo worker, said in a written statement, "I broke protocol and stuck my hand in a cat cage instead of using the stick provided.

"The cat let go and pushed my arm back through the cage," she said in the statement. "This tiger was not aggressive towards me. I hope for a healthy recovery so I can return to work every day with my tigers."

Saffery told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City the tiger bit her on the fingers of her glove and pulled her arm into the cage. As the tiger reached for her coat, which he might have viewed as a toy, its front paws did 90 percent of the damage, she said.

She was airlifted to the hospital where she underwent emergency surgery, the station reported.

Joe Schreibvogel, owner of 150 tigers at the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, Okla., said Saffery’s hospital stay was expected to be for 10 to 15 days.

"She’s in good spirits," he said after visiting her Monday afternoon at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. "They have her arm saved, and she is ready to come back to work. Unfortunately, she’s not able to right now."

The animal that mauled Saffery, known as tiger No. 7, is 14 years old, he said.

A former Army soldier stationed in Laughton, Okla., Saffery got out of the service and applied for the cat-keeper position at the zoo, Schreibvogel said.

She is "a very dependable employee, one of my most dedicated," he said. "Unfortunately, she broke protocol and let her guard down and did not use her proper safety equipment."

Saffery’s sister, Samantha, said Kelci is a 2004 Kaiser High School graduate who played softball for the Cougars.

She had no previous experience with animals when she joined the zoo nearly a year ago, Schreibvogel said.

The park’s website says of its Big Cat Feeding Tour: "We’ll provide you and your group with a trained handler, a bag of chicken and safety gloves."

Schreibvogel said the park was founded in memory of his brother, who was killed by a drunken driver.

He said all the exotic animals at the park have been rescued, and were unwanted or their owners were unable to care for them.

However, the Humane Society of the United States said on its website the park houses about 200 tigers and other dangerous exotic animals and is acting as a petting zoo and traveling zoo that breeds tigers and bears.

The park allows the public, including children, to handle exotic animals for a fee at its facility and at shopping malls and other venues around the country, and there are reports of people getting scratched and bitten at the events, the Humane Society said.

The Humane Society said it has filed numerous complaints with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding potential legal violations.

The organization said it sent an undercover investigator to the zoo in 2011 who recorded tiger deaths, unwarranted breeding and dangerous incidents involving children and adults at the Oklahoma animal park.

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