The Real Reason Joe Exotic's Staffer Saff Saffery Lost His Arm

While Netflix's Tiger King features people who seem so eccentric that they hardly seem real, including Joe Exotic and his many husbands, there was one person who came across as refreshingly genuine and down-to-earth — G.W. Zoo employee Saff Saffery, who lost an arm due to a tiger accident.

Saff was continuously misgendered throughout the Netflix docu-series. Robert Moor, who wrote a comprehensive piece on Joe Exotic, his zoo, and his feud with Carole Baskin for New York Magazine, jumped on Twitter on March 23, 2020, to remind fans to correctly gender Saff, writing, "Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff (not "Kelci"), and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise."

With that as a foundation, there is so much more to learn about the cool, calm and collected Saff who ended up losing his arm in a horrific accident, but still protected Joe and the animals at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

But what really happened to Saff Saffery?

A big mistake at Joe Exotic's zoo

In a Lights Out interview with David Spade in March 2020, Saff explained what happened at Joe Exotic's zoo on the day he lost his arm. The interview is absolutely lovely and hilarious and totally proves that Saff is one of the greatest people to come out of the Tiger King docu-series.

The tiger accident occurred in October 2013. Saff told Spade that he was doing normal chores at 10 a.m., about an hour and a half before the first tour of the day began and he had just become complacent. He stressed that he worked with those animals every single day and stuck his hand in the catch pen instead of using a stick. Saff said, "It was an absolute, 100 percent mistake."

The event was so devastating that local Oklahoma news outlet KFOR wrote a piece about it on Oct. 6, 2013, explaining the incident in closer detail. When Saff stuck his hand in the cage, the tiger bit the finger of his glove and pulled his arm even further into the cage. The tiger reached for Saff's coat and it was the tiger's front paws that did "90 percent of the damage."

Saff Saffery doesn't blame the tiger

Saff Saffery stressed to both David Spade and to the local news outlet, KFOR, back in 2013, that it was not the tiger's fault. Saff told KFOR that he believed "the tiger thought his coat and glove were toys," adding that, despite the immense damage done, the tiger was not aggressive towards him.

Spade wanted to know what happened to the tiger, who could be perceived as a dangerous animal, but Staff stressed: "It's not the tiger's fault," and said it wasn't put down. At the time, KFOR reported that the "tiger was tranquilized and moved to another area of the park 'off-exhibit' and will most likely remain there for the rest of his life."

In the hospital, Saff was given a choice: two years of reconstructive surgery or amputation – Saff opted for an amputation of his arm. "Within a week, I was back on [the] park," Saff told Spade.

According to KFOR News, Saff read a statement after the accident: "I broke protocol and stuck my hand in a cat cage instead of using the stick provided. The cat let go and pushed my arm back through the cage. This tiger was not aggressive towards me. I hope for a healthy recovery so I can return to work everyday with my tigers."

Saff told Spade that he left the G.W. Zoo in June 2018, right around the time Joe Exotic left, saying, "the reason I was there went away."