Death at San Francisco Zoo Is Probed
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The San Francisco Police Department opened a criminal investigation yesterday into how a Siberian tiger escaped from the city zoo, and then mauled a teenager to death and seriously injured two other people.
The Christmas Day attack occurred at closing time, when the tiger somehow got out of its enclosure -- one that included a surrounding moat and a 20-foot-high wall. Zoo officials said they had no idea how the tiger could have overcome the barriers, which meet all national standards for a safe tiger display.
San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong said at a news conference yesterday that the area was declared a crime scene "because we're not certain why the incident occurred -- as result of human action or whether this was an incident where the animal was able to get out of the grotto." Fong said police have interviewed witnesses to the attacks, including the two injured men.
The Siberian tiger, 4-year-old Tatiana, had attacked a keeper a year ago, seriously injuring the woman's arm. A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigation into the incident faulted the zoo, which upgraded security for its five tigers as a result and paid an $18,000 fine.
Zoo Director Manual A. Mollinedo said yesterday that after the initial incident, there was "never a consideration of putting the tiger down. The tiger was acting like a tiger normally does."
Mary Healy, director of the Sacramento Zoo and past board chairman of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, agreed that "the tiger can't be blamed. These are wild animals that we take into our care, and we are responsible when things go wrong."
Tatiana was killed by San Francisco police when they came upon the cat, which was mauling its third victim. The two injured brothers, ages 19 and 23, were reported to be in stable condition after undergoing surgery to clean and close their wounds.
Authorities identified the dead visitor as Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, of San Jose. The victim was found in front of the animal's enclosure. The two injured men were found at a zoo cafe about 300 yards away. When police arrived in response to an urgent 911 call, Tatiana was sitting next to one of the men, who already had blood running from wounds to his head, according to police spokesman Steven Mannina.
The tiger attacked the man again as the officers approached. Tatiana moved toward the police, and several of them fired, killing the animal, Mannina said.
National Zoo spokeswoman Sarah Taylor said that in light of the incident in San Francisco, the Washington zoo will not make immediate changes to its tiger enclosures but is open to making improvements in the future.
"We don't know what happened in San Francisco because the investigation is ongoing," she said. "As reports come out, if there is anything we can learn and implement here, that would absolutely happen."
The 125-acre San Francisco zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which yesterday released a statement saying that the zoo will have to provide a detailed report on the incident for its independent accreditation commission. The group will then determine whether any actions need to be taken at the zoo and possibly at others.