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Tiger nearly tears off volunteer's arm at Carole Baskin's Big Cat Rescue

A volunteer was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries after a tiger bit her at the Florida rescue owned by the "Tiger King" star.
/ Source: TODAY

A tiger bit a volunteer's arm and "nearly tore it off at the shoulder" during a feeding Thursday morning at Florida's Big Cat Rescue, which is owned by "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin.

A park volunteer named Candy Couser was feeding a tiger named Kimba at the rescue in Tampa when she reached inside an enclosure to open a gate and was bitten on the arm and then rushed to the hospital in an ambulance about 15 to 20 minutes later, according to a Facebook post by Big Cat Rescue.

"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 park's post reads. "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."

Two colleagues immediately came to Couser's aid, according to Big Cat Rescue.

"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," the statement says. "Gina packed her arm in ice packs to try and save it. The ambulance arrived within 15-20 minutes of the accident."

A volunteer at the animal rescue run by Carole Baskin (above) was seriously injured when she was bitten by a tiger. Netflix

Hillsborough fire officials confirmed to NBC affiliate WFLA that rescue crews responded to reports of a person bitten by an animal at Big Cat Rescue around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Couser, who has been a volunteer at the rescue for five years, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, according to the Facebook post. Big Cat Rescue later stated on its website, "Candy's husband reports that she is going into surgery soon. She can move her fingers and her arm is broken in three places. Her shoulder is badly damaged though."

A hospital spokesperson told TODAY on Thursday afternoon that Couser is in "good condition."

"Candy was still conscious and insisted that she did not want Kimba Tiger to come to any harm for this mistake," the rescue wrote in its Facebook post. "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."

Grief counseling has been offered to the staff, who met together after the incident.

"Carole 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," Big Cat Rescue wrote on Facebook.

TODAY has reached out to Big Cat Rescue for additional comment.

Baskin was one of the primary figures featured in "Tiger King" as the nemesis of Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, aka “Joe Exotic.”

He frequently accused her of murdering her late husband, Don Lewis, and feeding him to her tigers, while she fired back with accusations that he was abusing his animals. (Baskin has denied that she was involved in Lewis' disappearance, and has not been charged with any crime.)

Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year prison sentence after being convicted on two counts of murder-for-hire last year for paying $3,000 to a hit man to kill Baskin. He was also convicted on multiple counts of violating wildlife laws.

In June, a federal judge granted Baskin control of Maldonado-Passage's 16-acre zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, after Big Cat Rescue sued Maldonado-Passage's mother, Shirley Schreibvogel, in 2016, claiming that her son fraudulently transferred control of the zoo to her in 2011 to keep it away from creditors.

A zoo employee suffering a serious injury due to a tiger attack was also featured in "Tiger King." An employee at Maldonado-Passage's zoo, Kelci "Saff" Saffery, talks in the documentary about having part of his left arm amputated after a tiger attack and then returning to work five days later.