Police describe tiger attack victims' escape
"She had to have jumped"
Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, escaped from her grotto at the San
on Christmas Day killing one man and mauling two others
before authorities shot and killed the apex predator.
Photo courtesy siouxcityjournal.com
By Ari Burack
December 28, 2007
Police Thursday described the efforts of three young men from
San Jose to save each other and themselves from an escaped Siberian
tiger that mauled all three, killing one, at the San Francisco
Zoo on Tuesday..
San Francisco police Chief Heather Fong and zoo director Manuel
Mollinedo spoke outside the zoo, offering more details about the
timeline of events, and police response, as an investigation continues
into exactly how the tiger escaped.
Fong said police responded to the zoo at 5:08 p.m. Tuesday after
zoo officials reported the attack. Officers saw Carlos Sousa Jr.,
17, on the ground in front of the lion exhibit, being attended
to by paramedics. He was pronounced dead at the zoo.
Two others, brothers ages 19 and 23, whose identities have not
been released, were bitten and clawed by the tiger and are recovering
at San Francisco General Hospital.
According to police, the victims had come to the zoo together
and were standing in front of the exhibit at closing time, when
Tatiana, a 4-year-old, 350-pound tiger somehow got out of the
exhibit's grotto area, which is surrounded by a 33-foot wide moat
and a 12-foot high moat wall.
A police investigation determined Tatiana first attacked one
of the brothers, while Sousa and the other brother tried to yell
and distract the tiger. The tiger then turned to Sousa, fatally
mauling him, while the other brothers ran to a zoo cafe about
300 yards away, according to police.
When plainclothes officers came to the cafe, they saw one of
the brothers bleeding from his face with the tiger sitting next
to him, according to Fong.
"They heard him saying, 'Help me, help me,'" Fong said.
The four officers approached and the tiger resumed its attack
on one of the brothers.
Officers then yelled at and distracted the tiger, and when it
turned and started moving toward them, they opened fire, killing
the tiger, she said.
The entire episode from when police were first notified until
the tiger was shot lasted only 19 minutes, Fong said.
"They took quick action, they protected the victims while
doing so," she said.
Paramedics attended to both brothers, who suffered "significant
blood loss" but were stabilized before being rushed to the
hospital, doctors said today. Their release from the hospital
is anticipated in the next several days.
Amid speculation that the tiger may have been taunted before
the attack, Fong said she wanted to clarify reports that someone
may have stuck a leg through an outer railing where visitors stand.
Fong said police have no evidence "that someone's leg was
leaning over the rail."
Fong noted that investigators did find a shoeprint on the railing
in front of the exhibit where the first attacks happened, and
that forensic analysts are trying to determine whether the print
matches any of the victims' shoes.
"We have no information to tell us at this point that they
did, or did not, go over the railing," Fong stated, adding
that no one's shoe was found inside the railing.
Fong concluded her remarks by saying that it was "too early
to speculate" about whether there had been any behavior that
could be considered criminal.
Mollinedo said today that a "seasoned" employee had
been caretaking the exhibit that night.
He added that he believed Tatiana must have escaped through the
front, grotto portion of the exhibit and not the rear, where "every
lock was in place," he said.
"She had to have jumped," Mollinedo said. "How
she was able to jump that high is amazing to me."
Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal
agency that oversees all U.S. zoos, visited the zoo today, according
An inspection three years ago by the Association of Zoos and
Aquariums, a national zoo accrediting organization, never noted
any deficiency in the design of the grotto, which was built in
1940, according to Mollinedo.
On Dec. 22, 2006, Tatiana, who was born in captivity, attacked
a female trainer in front of dozens of onlookers after a feeding
The trainer was bitten on both arms and underwent extensive surgeries.
The zoo's Lion House was closed for almost nine months following
"There's still things that need to be looked at, and areas
that need to be reviewed before I feel comfortable reopening the
zoo," Mollinedo said.
Some "immediate fixes" include proposals to install
new fencing in front of the feline exhibits and to add hot wire
in front of zoo animal habitats, he said.
"When we open the zoo, the zoo will be safe," Mollinedo
Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication,
Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent
of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.