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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WATER– An 18-year-old former wildlife sanctuary worker recalled when a tiger bit her arm in a recent attack.
“It had sunk his teeth in and felt like he was pulling me,” Somer Stevens said, pointing to the marks and stitches left on his shoulder. “There are a lot of staples going down to the skin graft.”
Stevens was bitten January 25 at Tiger Haven animal sanctuary, according to the Roane County Sheriff’s Office. Body camera images show the aftermath of the attack. Stevens can be seen on the ground as his colleagues used a tourniquet to try to keep his arm from bleeding.
When calling 911 from the sanctuary, an employee told the dispatcher, “Someone got caught by one of the tigers. “
Stevens has undergone five surgeries with skin grafts from his back and leg. She now has her arm in a sling and is covered in bandages. She says she worries about her appearance once healed.
But, she said, the scars are reminiscent of when her fiance saved her life.
“He picked up a piece of bamboo from the ground and put it through the fence and into the tiger’s throat, which made him vomit, which made him let go,” Stevens explained.
From distracting a tiger to distracting his girlfriend from the pain, just 24 hours later he moved to the hospital.
“It was really, really sweet,” Stevens said. “It was really like, ‘We know you might lose your arm. Its good. I’m here for you.'”
Questions remain about how the attack happened.
Body camera video reports from two officers who responded to the incident show that sanctuary workers believed Stevens had tried to stroke the tiger through the fence when she was bitten.
Mary Lynn Haven, the founder of the nonprofit sanctuary, said Stevens and her fiance helped bottle-feed the tiger, Eeyore, like a baby.
“A little too comfortable,” Haven told the officer. “He’s a hand-raised cat. I’m not saying he’s tame, but he’s likeable.
Another employee can be heard explaining that there was meat on the side of the fence, indicating that Stevens had intentionally put his hand through the fence.
Stevens refutes this account.
“I just want to make it very clear that it’s not, and I wanted everyone to know what the real story was,” Stevens said.
Stevens explained that she went to give the tiger water, a task that she said was one of her regular responsibilities around The tiger refuge, which has more than 260 big cats.
“As I was coming down the hill in rainy conditions, I slipped and fell forward, and I fell straight into the fence and the tiger grabbed my hand and pulled my arm,” said Stevens said.
Stevens and her fiance live on the property. Her fiancé had been working at the sanctuary for a longer time, but Stevens had started caring for the animals about two months before the incident.
“After seeing how much my fiancé liked him and having lived on the property for about five months, I just decided that, I’m here, he works there. I could be there with him with the cats taking care of them, ”she said.
Stevens said that neither she nor her fiancee were no longer working at the shrine. She doesn’t blame the tiger and says she would love to work with big cats again if she had the chance.
Officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said the case was closed and several attempts to contact the sanctuary had failed. No statement was released and Tiger Haven’s lawyer did not respond to calls.
“What worries us is the way Tiger Haven paints him as if Somer caused these injuries herself, trying to pet one of those tigers,” said his lawyer, Jedidiah McKeehan, said to Good Morning America.
Stevens, with his ring finger covered in bandages, put the wedding planning on hold.
“I did a lot of scheduling (doctor’s appointments). That’s all I had time for, ”Stevens said with a laugh.
Stevens tries to figure out what her arm might look like in a wedding dress. “I want it so badly on my right finger,” she said of her engagement ring.
A GoFundMe had been set up for Stevens and her fiance.
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