Wild tigers held in captivity are extremely dangerous. Even small or apparently sick tigers are very powerful animals capable of inflicting serious injuries. The safety of staff working in rehabilitation centres must be taken extremely seriously – not only are injuries obviously bad for the individuals affected, but the viability of any rehabilitation project can be threatened if safety standards are low.
Each rehabilitation centre should comply with local health and safety regulations and develop a written safety policy. Measures should be identified to protect staff from physical injury and zoonotic diseases (i.e. diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans). All staff should read and agree to abide by the policy and be trained accordingly before undertaking their duties. The details will be determined by many local factors, but some suggestions are given below:
Prevention of physical injury by tigers:
- All keepers should have a basic knowledge of tiger biology including behaviour.
- Other than young cubs, staff should never share the same space with conscious sub-adult or adult tigers or attempt to physically restrain them.
- Staff should never work on their own.
- Signage should be used to indicate significant hazards.
- Feeding procedures should designed not to pose any risk to humans or animals.Staff should never lean on an enclosure perimeter fence.
- Before any manipulation of a tiger is started (veterinary treatments, anaesthesia, moving animals between enclosures, moving animals into or out of the centre, etc) each staff member should be assigned a particular function that he/she will have to implement during the procedure. In case of general anaesthesia, there should be one specialist (ideally a veterinarian) responsible for the entire process.
- Sliding doors and gates to and between enclosures should always be locked immediately after their use, and kept locked. (Ideally all locks should be double-checked by two members of staff.)
- A routine should be established and followed when moving animals from one enclosure into another. Before such a move, the area’s security must be checked (doors locked, fence intact), and the location of all staff members known, and their safety confirmed.
- Before and after moving tigers from one area into another staff must check how many animals are in the enclosures by actually seeing them.
- If an enclosure has double sets of gates, the outer gate should be securely closed before the inner gate is opened.
- Doors/gates must be closed and locked before staff enter an empty enclosure adjoining one containing an animal.
- Staff must be familiar with the location(s) and use(s) of approved safety items (e.g., flares, CO2 fire extinguishers, radios).
- There should be a “safe house” on site – i.e. a tiger proof building into which staff can retreat in the event of an escape.
- There should be a way of summoning help in the event of emergencies. In remote areas satellite phones may be necessary.
- A rehearsed plan should be in place to evacuate injured personnel to hospital if necessary.
- Staff should avoid distractions when working around animals. Mobiles phones are of particular concern.
- Site security is very important to prevent unauthorised people and animals entering. Perimeter fences should deter animals escaping and people getting in.
- Complacency or over-familiarity with on-site tasks is very dangerous. Staff should always avoid rushing their jobs, taking to time to think before acting!
Protection from zoonotic diseases:
Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to man. Some, such as rabies, are potentially fatal to man. Others can cause serious disease. The risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases can be significantly reduced by good standards of hygiene and following some simple rules:
- Hands should be washed frequently with soap – before and after handling animals, bowls etc. Warm or cold water can be used. Further details on hand washing technique can be found here (from the UK ‘s National Health Service).
- Disposable gloves should be worn when handling tigers or their waste.
- Animals and carcasses fed to tigers can be a source of infections to people. As an absolute minimum staff must wash hands thoroughly before and after handling any food intended for tigers. However, personal protective equipment (disposable gloves, overalls and rubber boots) is advisable at all stages of food preparation and handling.
- Eating, drinking or smoking in animal areas should not be allowed.
- Toilet facilities should be provided for staff. Urination or defecation in the open must be prohibited.
- Needle stick injuries should be avoided by correct and immediate disposal of needles and other sharps into appropriate sharps containers.
- Inhalation or ingestion of bodily fluids, blood and aerosols should be avoided.
- Mess of any sort anywhere around the site should be cleaned up promptly.
- Disinfectants should be used to soak equipment, utensils, etc.
- Used syringes and other consumables contaminated with body fluids and blood must be disposed of promptly after use into plastic bags or containers.
- Pregnant women should avoid exposure to tiger faeces to reduce the risk of infection with Toxoplasma which may adversely affect an unborn child.
- Staff should be vaccinated against rabies & tetanus. Extreme care should be taken to prevent staff being bitten by tigers showing any sign of neurological disorder.
- The use of overalls, footwear and disposable gloves when working is strongly advised. The veterinarian advising each rehabilitation centre should write clear instructions for the use of this personal protective equipment.
- Work clothes should be washed on-site at a high temperature, and not taken home by staff.
- All animal waste from the site should be incinerated.
- Before employment at a rehabilitation centre, and at regular intervals thereafter, staff should be screened for infectious diseases prevalent in the region – eg: tuberculosis
- Staff should be trained in correct lifting technique to avoid back injuries.
- A system of reporting and recording injuries and staff illnesses is advised.
- Staff should be instructed in handling and correct storage of potentially hazardous chemicals on site (such as insecticides, pesticides, disinfectants, etc).
- Where Xray equipment is used on site, appropriate procedures and protective equipment should be used, and local regulations complied with.
- Compressed oxygen cylinders should be stored upright, secured in place, and protected from high ambient temperatures and corrosive chemicals. The regulator should only be fitted to the cylinder when in use, and not during storage or transport.