Tiger attacks keeper at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo

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Credit: Terri Irwin

A tiger has attacked a keeper at an Australian zoo founded by the late wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin.

The incident, which took place Thursday morning at the Sunshine Coast’s Australia Zoo, left 41-year-old Che Woolcott with “significant puncture wounds” to his head and forearm, according to local media reports. He was treated at the scene before being transferred to the hospital.

Australia Zoo described the incident in a statement: “While walking through surrounding bushland at the Zoo, Ranu — Australia Zoo’s 12-year-old male Sumatran tiger — became overly interested in his surroundings and when his handler approached him to change direction, he swatted his paw resulting in a scratch on his left wrist, bicep and right side of the forehead.”

Meanwhile, Australia Zoo matriarch and Irwin’s wife confirmed the incident on social media, tweeting: “Hot day @AustraliaZoo. One of our tigers got hot & bothered and scratched a keeper. Keeper is ok, tiger is ok.”

She updated her followers on the keeper’s condition a few hours later: “Happy that @AustraliaZoo’s tiger handler, Che is home now and doing well. Ranu the tiger acts like nothing happened.” A video accompanied the tweet showing a deep scar on the zookeeper’s forehead.

In the video, the handler, in typical laid back Aussie style, says he’s “all good.”

He adds with a grin: “Bit of a hot day… He [the tiger] let off a bit of steam and I got a few claw marks. These things happen working with tigers.”

Australia Zoo features a “Tiger Temple” attraction and is home to three Bengal tigers and seven Sumatra cats including Ranu, who is described in his zoo profile as “cheeky” and “mischievous.”

Along with his wife and family, Irwin founded the Australia Zoo as a sanctuary for animals and conservation facility. Known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” he was killed in 2006 by a stingray barb to the chest while filming a documentary off Australia’s north coast.