Employee recalls tiger attack at East Tennessee big cat sanctuary

KINGSTON, Tenn. — An East Tennessee woman was convinced she was going to die last month after being attacked at the big cat sanctuary where she worked.

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Somer Stevens, 18, was working at Tiger Haven in Roane County on Jan. 25 when she tripped and fell toward the tiger’s cage, WATE reported. The animal, named Eeyore, pounced and clamped down on her right arm.

“It almost felt like I could feel my muscles ripping in half and I swear if he would’ve pulled it one more time, my arm would’ve been off of my body,” Stevens told WBIR. “The tiger had my whole arm in his mouth, I could feel the warmth of his stomach almost.”

Stevens said she had gone to give Eeyore some water, which was part of her normal duties.

“As I was walking down the hill in rainy conditions, I just slipped and fell forward,” Stevens told WATE. “I just fell straight into the fence and the tiger grabbed my hand and just yanked my arm.”

Body camera footage showed Stevens on the ground after the attack while her coworkers use a tourniquet to try to stop the bleeding from her arm, according to WATE.

Her fiance, Gage Gilmore, saved her life, Stevens told the television station.

“He picked up a piece of bamboo off the ground and put it through the fence and into the tiger’s throat, which made him gag,” Stevens said. “Which made him let go of me.”

In a sweet postscript, Gilmore bought a ring the day after the attack and proposed to Stevens at her hospital bedside, WBIR reported.

“If I have an arm, if I don’t have an arm, he still wants to be with me,” Stevens told the television station. “He loves me. He’s here for me.”

Stevens said she knows she has a difficult road to recovery. She has already had five surgeries with skin grafts from her back and leg, WATE reported.

Stevens’ right arm remains bandaged and in a sling.

“I’m doing OK, I’m struggling a lot trying to learn how to do things differently,” Stevens told WBIR.

Stevens said doctors believe it will take at least a year for her to regain feeling in her arm and maybe longer to do any basic movements, the television station reported.

Representatives for Tiger Haven have not officially responded to multiple requests for comment, according to WBIR and WATE.

According to its website, Tiger Haven is currently home to 265 big cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, cougars and jaguars. The nonprofit sanctuary is licensed to legally keep the animals.

Stevens and her fiance are now out of work. They have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay medical and living expenses.