Zoo corrects grotto safety design flaw
Workers near completion of safety modifications made to the big-cat
exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo in response to a fatal attack
by a 250-pound Siberian tigress that managed to escape its grotto
Christmas Day, killing Carlos Sousa, Jr. and mauling two friends,
before being shot dead by police.
Photo by Luke
February 11, 2008
Construction workers are near completion of a safety design overhaul
of the big-cat exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo.
The $1 million renovation seeks to address safety failings exposed
after a tiger managed to escape its enclosure on Christmas Day,
killing Carlos Sousa Jr, and mauling his two friends, Kulbir and
Tatiana, the 250-pound Siberian tigress, was shot dead when police
arrived on scene.
The modifications include raised walls, electrified wires and
glass barriers bringing into compliance the height of the moat
wall -- previously 12.5-feet -- to a total height of 19-feet,
above The Association of Zoos & Aquarium's guideline of 16
feet and 4 inches.
Construction workers have been "working twenty four hours
a day" to complete the alterations, said Zoo spokesperson
Paul Garcia. Following a period of animal re-acclimatization,
the zoo hopes to re-open the exhibits within three weeks.
A panel of zoo experts visited the zoo Saturday to report on
whether the modifications have sufficiently improved public safety.
Zoo management refuted criticism the panel has been handpicked
to provide a soft report.
"They work for well-established organizations," Garcia
"We're looking for, and we welcome suggestions, because
we want to make this one of the best zoo's in the world and we
want Bay Area residents to be proud of the zoo," Garcia added.
Alongside safety concerns, the escape also raised broader questions
about the zoo's function.
It's "a wake-up call alerting us to fundamental problems,"
said Suzanne Roy of In Defense of Animals (IDA). A study by the
group found enclosures to be an "impoverished environment
stark and sterile."
"When these exhibits first opened in the 1940's these were
considered modern exhibits," responded Garcia. "Back
in the day, most of the zoos had big cats in a cage-like environment."
"San Francisco Zoo was one of the first zoo's to really
create this environment," Garcia said.
The IDA denounces the zoo's current treatment of animals as outdated,
citing "a pressing need to transform [the zoo] into an institution
that places priority on the well-being of animals."
District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly said the zoo "should be
transitioned to a rescue zoo."
Garcia contends the zoo already acts as a sanctuary. "We
do also serve as a rescue center," he said. "The greatest
story I can tell right now is of our grizzly bears
years ago they were facing an untimely death."
While recognizing zoo efforts, IDA's Deniz Bolbol said more must
Garcia highlighted the zoo's educational role, saying "It's
more or less an education classroom if you think about it - over
18,000 schoolkids come to visit. We participate in after school
programs and bring some of our small animals."
Bohbol contends that it isn't true education to observe "stressed
behavior" of animals in captivity.
"The vast majority of people don't even know what they're
looking at," she said.