Sadness In My Family For Loss Of Tiger Keeper


There’s sadness all the way to my daughter’s home in Kansas City because of the death of Stacey Konwiser, lead tiger keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo. And, even with all the regulatory agencies now involved in studying this accident, we may never know what really happened between Stacey and that tiger. It’s possible that even Stacey didn’t know. Because even though we call them “wild” animals, they aren’t wild at all. I know people who are a lot wilder — and a lot more unpredictable — than any animal.

Although I personally never met Stacey, my daughter Jen has. In fact, she’s had her over to the house. Jen is a fellow animal lover, and I find that animal lovers tend to run in packs. In fact, at one time, Jen herself was considering zookeeper as a career choice. As I recall, she was torn between that and beautician. She was 9. Engineering was her eventual choice, but had she made either of those other choices, I would have supported her just the same.

So I have to hand it to Stacey’s parents. They taught their daughter a love of — and respect for — animals. I’m sure they encouraged her to pursue an education in that field. They cheered her on, success after success, as she rose up the zoo keeping ladder. And, in the end, they lost their child to her passion.

I also firmly believe that plenty of good will come of this tragedy. There will be lessons learned for others and new regulations to protect those who work in zoos. There may be a scholarship fund established or tributes of other kinds. For Stacey’s parents, it will never replace their child, but it will be a legacy.

As for Stacey, “she died doing what she loved” is a phrase that will be uttered by people otherwise rendered speechless. Because who, these days — who in Palm Beach County — dies at the mercy of a tiger? Down through the generations, that family will tell the tale of a woman so brave that she walked with tigers, not just one day, but every day. That she was known as “the tiger whisperer.” That she chose to become, not a teacher or a writer or an accountant, but a zookeeper. She knew things about tigers that none of us will ever know. She shared feelings with tigers that none of us will ever share. She had one bad day in a string of thousands of good days, working and playing with tigers.

So there’s sadness across the country and around the world because of Stacey’s death, but there is also awe. And mystery. And admiration. Not many of us would even have attempted to do the things that this young woman did every day.

And it’s all because a little girl grew up loving animals.

You did the right thing, mom and dad. Never doubt that — you did the right thing.