Kelci Saffery experienced a terrifying tiger attack in 2013. But she went back to work at GW Zoo (sometimes called the GW Exotic Animal Park) after she recovered. She’s featured in Netflix’s Tiger King documentary series. (Pictured above is Joe Exotic in an official Tiger King photo from Netflix.)
Kelci Saffery, an employee of the park, was moving tigers to different pens so she could feed them in 2013 when she suffered the tiger attack that made national news. She said that in the process of moving the tigers, she put her hand into an opening – a move that was against the park’s rules, News 9 reported. She ended up losing an arm in the attack.
Saffery told News 9 in 2013: “He bit my hand and like I said he thought it was a toy so he put my claws on me. Once he realized it wasn’t a toy, he completely let me go… They said it was going to be years and years of reconstructive surgery. That’s not something that sat well with me because that means I can’t be here on the park doing what I love…”
When she was attacked, Saffery was working as a big cat specialist at what was then called the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, The Oklahoman reported. She wrote a handwritten statement absolving the tiger, which you can read below:
On Oct. 5, 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 … this tiger was not aggressive toward me.”
Saffery, who was 27 at the time, said she didn’t blame the tiger because she was the one who changed things that day, not him.
The tiger that attacked her was known as “tiger number seven,” since the zoo didn’t name the tigers at its facility, The Oklahoman reported. The tiger was ordered to be isolated for at least 10 days. Joe Exotic said the tiger had never been aggressive before and likely thought Saffery’s arm was a toy.
You can hear the 911 call about the tiger mauling below.
At the time, Joe Exotic still had big cats at the zoo and said she would in the hospital for at least 15 days, The Oklahoman reported. He said in a news conference: “It was one of the most horrific arm injuries I’ve ever seen.”
He said that he had been bitten before, but “this is what I do.” He said he has to be responsible for what happens to employees, however.
Saffery returned to the park the day after she left the hospital and made a video about returning.
She was deployed twice: once to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. She said that she learned through that and the death of both of her parents that you just have to take what life hands you and run with it, News 9 reported. “Other than that, you’re living a life that just isn’t even worth it.”
Near the end of the documentary, Saffery said that she felt the money spent on the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin could have been spent on taking care of tigers, and that was one of the things that disappointed her the most.
According to Kelci Saffery’s LinkedIn, she’s a park manager at GW Zoo in Oklahoma City. However, it’s not known when her LinkedIn was last updated.