A WILTSHIRE keeper killed in a "freak accident" after a tiger entered the enclosure she was in has been described as the "shining light" of the zoo where she worked.

Rosa King, who has been named in reports as the Hamerton Zoo Park keeper who died on Monday, was a "lovely lady" who was "absolutely passionate" about the animals in her care, a friend said.

Desperate staff are reported to have hurled meat at the tiger in a bid to distract it, after it apparently entered an enclosure where Miss King was.

Her mum, Andrea, said she had worked at the zoo for around 14 years, adding: "She wouldn't have done anything else, it's what she has always done, it's what she has always loved.''

Garry Chisholm, 59, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew Ms King through visiting the attraction in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said the zoo revolved around the keeper.

Mr Chisholm, from Irchester, Northamptonshire, told the Press Association: "Rosa wasn't just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo - she was Hamerton Zoo.

"She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it.

"It revolved around her."

Miss King is thought to have grown up in Chippenham, attending Hardenhuish School before studying at Wiltshire College.

A spokesman for the college said: “Rosa studied a National Certificate in Animal Care at Wiltshire College's Lackham campus between 1999 - 2001.

“Rosa’s tutor remembers her as an excellent student who always wanted to become a zoo keeper and someone who was very passionate about the animals she worked with.  

"Our thoughts are with Rosa’s family and friends at this very sad time.”

Police were called at 11.15am yesterday to reports of a serious incident at the zoo.

An air ambulance was on the scene 20 minutes later and visitors were evacuated from the attraction just before midday on Monday.

A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said: "A tiger had entered an enclosure with a keeper. Sadly the female zoo keeper died at the scene.

"At no time did the animal escape from the enclosure. "

Mr Chisholm said: "Her passion for the animals in her care was exceptional though her favourites were undoubtedly the cheetahs which she would refer to as her pride and joy.

"I feel privileged to have known Rosa and been able to call her a friend.

"She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her.

"The only consolation I can take from today's tragic events is that Rosa is now reunited with her beloved Ares the cheetah, and Blizzard and Ladybelle, her beloved tigers."

The zoo said it appeared to have been a "freak accident" and it would remain closed today as an investigation continues. It is not thought that the tiger has been shot.

It said: "At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures and at no point was public safety affected in any way.

"All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time."

People took to social media to express their condolences following the keeper's death.

One user posted on Twitter: "Terrible news about the keeper at Hamerton Zoo. Such an awful shock for everyone RIP."

Another wrote: "A zookeeper sadly died earlier today at Hamerton Zoo. So tragic, their life was taken too soon. RIP."

Witness Jeff Knott, 32, from Cambridgeshire, said staff had been "a real credit" to the zoo during the evacuation.

He told the Press Association: "We had been in the zoo since about 10.30am and heard/seen nothing until asked to leave about 11.45am.

"Staff were very calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner - no running, shouting or anything similar."

The case has been referred to Cambridgeshire Coroner's Office and a spokesman said an inquest will be opened next week.

Hamerton Zoo Park hit the headlines nearly a decade ago after a cheetah escaped from its enclosure.

Toby Taylor, then nine, encountered the escaped animal in his back garden.

Toby, who lived with his family near Hamerton Zoo at the time, immediately ran indoors when he saw the animal.

The three-year-old cheetah, thought to have escaped through a faulty electric fence, was collected by its keepers, accompanied by the police a short time later.

Four years ago, keeper Sarah McClay died after being mauled by a Sumatran tiger at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria.

The zoo was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court in June last year following the 24-year-old employee's death in May 2013.

It received an additional £42,500 fine after it admitted other health and safety breaches when a zookeeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

Last October ZSL London Zoo was put on lockdown after Kumbuka the silverback gorilla managed to exit his enclosure through two security doors that had been left unlocked by a keeper.

Armed police were called to the central London attraction and visitors were evacuated when the alarm was raised following the ape's bid for freedom shortly after 5pm on October 13.

It follows the death of endangered gorilla Harambe, who was shot when a three-year-old boy fell into his Cincinnati Zoo enclosure in May 2016.

Do you have a special memory of Rosa or would like to pay tribute? Email smackley@newswilts.co.uk