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Archive for Saturday, December 29, 2007

Zoo worker initially didn’t believe report of tiger attack

December 29, 2007

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— A San Francisco Zoo employee who called 911 during the Christmas Day tiger attack told a dispatcher that a very agitated male was claiming to have been bitten by an animal, but the employee initially didn't believe him, according to communication police released Friday afternoon.

The employee, who works at the zoo cafe, later went on to say "two males are 800 (crazy) and are making something up," but the employee added one of the men was bleeding from the back of the head.

The communication was released at a brief news conference during which Police Chief Heather Fong said the investigation has determined the Siberian tiger that killed a San Jose teenager and injured two of his friends was not released intentionally.

But Fong said her office is still investigating whether any criminal acts were committed and she would not say how the 350-pound cat escaped from its enclosure.

Meanwhile, the zoo, which has been closed since the Christmas Day mauling, will reopen Thursday, officials announced at the news conference.

The latest revelation came a day after zoo officials said the enclosure for the Siberian tiger had a wall lower than they initially stated and below industry recommendations.

Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo also said he believes the tiger escaped from that portion of the enclosure, although police said they still don't know what happened.

Mollinedo said the outer wall that separated 350-pound Tatiana from the viewing public is 12 feet 5 inches high ... not the 18 feet he reported Wednesday, and 4 feet below minimum Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines for tigers.

Mollinedo said the AZA inspected the enclosure, built in 1940, three years ago as part of its regular accreditation program and "they never noted that as a deficiency."

"Obviously, we're going to be rethinking that," Mollinedo said. He announced plans to add surveillance cameras, new fencing and an electrified barrier around the exhibit in the wake of Tuesday's escape that killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr.

Police are still trying to determine how the tiger escaped and whether Sousa and his friends, identified Thursday as San Jose brothers Kulbir, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19, leaped over the railing and taunted the animal.

Fong denied reports that the men dangled a leg into the enclosure or that a bloody shoe was found within the railing. She said officers were studying a shoe print found on the outer railing to see if it matched the victims' footwear.

"We have no information at this point that they did or did not go over the railing," Fong said.

Fong added a few new details of how the attack unfolded. Officers were dispatched to the zoo at 5:08 p.m. The first to arrive went to the tiger grotto where they saw the dying Carlos lying on the ground in front of the exhibit.

The police chief said it appeared the tiger had attacked one of the brothers first. Carlos and the other brother yelled to distract the tiger, which then turned on Carlos. She said the brothers fled back toward the cafe, where they had recently bought food, because "they knew there would be people there."

Zoo staff led police toward the Terrace Cafe, where they believed the tiger was headed, Fong said. In front of the cafe they saw one of the brothers seated on the ground, his face bleeding, crying "help me, help me," as the tiger sat nearby. The tiger attacked him again as officers shouted to distract the animal.

Another team of officers arrived from another direction. The tiger appeared to turn on the police and "in order to protect the victim as well as everyone else in the area, they fired," Fong said. It was over in 19 minutes.

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