When my kids were little and we took them to the San Francisco Zoo my son would always need reassurance on the way home:
“Are you sure the lions and tigers won’t follow us home?”
“We’re sure. They can’t escape from the zoo. You saw the big moats around their cages, didn’t you?”
“You’re super, dooper sure that a lion won’t come into my bedroom?”
“We promise. It won’t escape.”
While the likelihood of a lion or tiger leaving the zoo and heading across the Golden Gate to our house is still small, it turned out we were so very wrong when we told our little guy the lions and tigers couldn’t escape. One did tonight, with horrific consequences:
One zoo visitor was killed and two injured early this evening in an attack by a Siberian tiger that somehow managed to escape from her enclosed grotto. The horrific mauling witnessed by other zoo patrons came nearly a year to the day after the same tiger almost chewed the arm off one of her zookeepers during a public feeding demonstration.
The zoo will be closed Wednesday out of respect for the unnamed victims, described by authorities as men in their 20s. One of the men was killed outside the grotto where the tigers are kept; the other two men were attacked about 300 yards away at a cafe. The incident happened about 20 minutes after the zoo’s 5 p.m. closing time.
The tiger, named Tatiana, was killed by four police officers who tracked it to a cafe and found it atop one of the victims. A police spokesman said the officers distracted the animal, which turned and approached the officers who opened fire with .40-caliber handguns.
Investigators today plan to comb the San Francisco Zoo to piece together how Tatiana escaped from her grotto, which is surrounded by a 15-foot-wide moat and 20-foot-tall wall, said Bob Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care and conservation.
Officials refused to rule out carelessness or criminal activity.
My thoughts go to the families of the victims, both living and dead. And I’ll never again comfortably be able to tell my kids that zoos are completely safe.
UPDATE: There’s more news today about the story although, as yet, no information about how the tiger escaped. Here’s the part that really surprised me, although it was hinted at in yesterday’s story:
Alerted by frantic calls from the zoo, four officers arrived in two police cars and tracked the tiger to the cafe. The tiger was sitting next to one victim but, when the officers arrived, it resumed its attack.
“The tiger jumped back on top,” police Sgt. Steve Mannina said. “The victim had blood on his face.”
The animal, distracted by the four officers and by the flashing red lights of the patrol cars, abandoned its victim and advanced toward the officers, Mannina said. The officers all fired their .40-caliber handguns, striking the tiger an unknown number of times.
In other words, even though the Zoo is filled with dangerous animals, the Zoo did not itself have readily available any way to subdue the animals — no guns, no fast acting tranquilizer darts, etc. Instead, the Zoo had to wait for the SF Police to come rescue it. This means that, if there had been a major traffic accident on the Great Highway or at the Sloat/19th intersection, help might have been slow in arriving, and many more people could have died or been injured.
Doesn’t it seem strange to you that the Zoo had not readied itself for the risk of an animal attack? Nor does it excuse the Zoo that no one, as yet, knows how the animal escaped. A single powerful spring might be so anomalous that no one prepares for it, but there’s always the risk that some loony-tunes releases an animal or, as we’ve seen in other Zoo stories, enters an animal’s enclosure.