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Zookeeper Sarah McClay dies after being mauled by tiger at Cumbria animal park

24-year-old woman was taken by ambulance to Preston Royal Infirmary

A 24-year-old woman has died after she was attacked by a tiger inside an enclosure at a zoo in Cumbria.

Police said Sarah McClay was attacked at the South Lakes Wild Animal Park, near Dalton in Furness. She was taken by air ambulance to Royal Preston Hospital following the attack, where she later died.

Police and Barrow Borough Council are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Ms McClay's family were "very shocked and distressed" and had requested privacy to grieve, police said.

Cumbria Police said the animal was later securely locked in its enclosure and there had not been any risk to the public.

The wildlife park closed early following the attack, as officials from Cumbria police and Barrow Borough Council arrived to investigate the circumstances leading to the incident.

David Gill, the owner and founder of South Lakes Wild Animal Park, said Ms McClay was very experienced in looking after big cats and that he had no explanation as to why she had entered the enclosure.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "After investigation by the authorities here and the police, it does seem that she just basically failed to follow the correct procedures.

"For some unknown reason, an inexplicable reason, because there is no reason for why she did it, she opened the door and went into the tiger enclosure and straight into the tigers, and now we'll never know why."

South Lakes is one of Britain’s leading zoos and home to the Sumatran Tiger Trust conservation charity. It places emphasis on giving animals space, with some non-predators allowed to wander freely among the visitors.

But the death is likely to raise further questions about the suitability of keeping tigers in enclosures in Britain. Campaigners have long suggested that there remain welfare issues with keeping such animals in zoos.

The former charities minister, Angela Smith, described zoos as “relics of the Victorian era” in 2010.

The incident mirrors a similar one in Germany last August that saw a tiger attack and kill a female keeper at Cologne zoo before being shot dead. It was later discovered that the gate of the tiger enclosure had not been properly shut, allowing the big cat to jump on the woman and maul and bite her.

In March this year London Zoo opened its new £3.6m home for Sumatran tigers, called Tiger Territory.