At reopened San Francisco Zoo, sympathy for the tiger
By Jesse McKinley
Friday, January 4, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO: The giraffes were aloof, the penguins were show-offs and the rhinoceros refused to wake up. But among the human visitors at the San Francisco Zoo - as it reopened a little over a week after a tiger escaped and mauled three visitors, killing one - a lingering and conflicted sadness seemed to be a common emotion.
And while lawyers and spokesmen for the zoo and the victims parried in the news media, visitors Thursday expressed sympathies that were equally divided between the three victims and the tiger, a 4-year-old female Siberian named Tatiana, who was shot and killed by the police.
"This whole thing has just been horrible," said Ilona Montoya of San Bruno, California, celebrating her 60th birthday at the zoo. "It's horrible, that poor tiger. I mean, I feel for the poor kid who got killed, but he had to do something to that tiger to get her that angry."
The zoo's reopening came as questions continued about what caused the attack Dec. 25 that killed Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, and seriously injured Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and his brother, Kulbir, 23.
Sergeant Steve Mannina said that the San Francisco police had spoken to a witness, Jennifer Miller, but he would not describe Miller's account of the attack. Miller, who could not be reached for comment, was quoted Thursday in The San Francisco Chronicle as saying she had seen two victims taunt the tiger moments before it leapt out of its open-air grotto, which was surrounded by a moat and a concrete wall about 12½ feet, or 4 meters, tall.
Two inspectors are working on the case, Mannina said, but with no apparent deadline for their investigation. "It will be done when it's done," he said.
Mannina said the police found a bottle of vodka in the Dhaliwals' car at the zoo after the attack. He would not say whether it had been opened.
Mark Geragos, a lawyer hired by the Dhaliwal family, has strongly denied any suggestion that his clients did anything to provoke the attack. He said he had no comment on the police's reporting that they had found alcohol in his clients' car.
Geragos said he was considering whether to file a civil suit against the zoo on the brothers' behalf. He called Miller's account "demonstrably false."
"It clearly does not correspond with what the police know," Geragos said.
For their part, zoo officials said they also believed that the big cat had been goaded into attacking, but that they would wait for the verdict from the police.
"Obviously there's a strong feeling the animal had to be provoked," said a zoo spokeswoman, Lora LaMarca. "We've had big cats in those exhibits for more than 40 years, and this is the only time one has gotten out and mauled someone."
Still, even as the zoo tried to return to its normal daily activities, signs of the tiger attack were everywhere. Zoo officials had posted fresh notices throughout that warned visitors against a variety of provocations, like tapping on glass, making excessive noise and teasing. Security guards and baby strollers were in almost equal numbers throughout much of the zoo.
And while the monkeys and marsupials were lonely on a rainy, blustery afternoon, the Lion House, where the big cats reside, drew a steady stream of the curious.
Maria Lubamersky, a 40-year-old teacher from San Rafael, California, brought her three boys - 5-year-old twins and a 3-year-old - and a friend's 5-year-old daughter to the edge of the lion and tiger den to take a look. She said the children were aware that a tiger had attacked nearby, though she had not told them someone had died.
Lubamersky said the visit was a good way to teach them to respect animals, especially big ones. "They couldn't believe a tiger could jump that wall," she said. "Now they do."
Her friend's daughter, Rachel Reher, moved toward the protective glass to take a peek. "There's nothing in there," Rachel said, amazed. And then it was on to the penguins.
The zoo has locked its big cats inside the Lion House while crews build a glass extension atop the wall around the outside grotto.
Before the attack, visitors had a barrier-free view of the animals on one side, though from behind a 33-foot-wide moat topped by the concrete wall, which turned out to be four feet shorter than the height for big cat enclosures recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Zoo officials said the extension would raise the wall to 19 feet and would probably take a month to construct.
At the zoo's front gate, visitors have fashioned a small memorial to Tatiana, with flowers, stuffed animals and a golden scarf that reads "RIP Tati." Two animal rights groups also planned a vigil for the tiger and Sousa, to commemorate "the two young victims who died on Christmas Day at the San Francisco Zoo."
Brian Glover, 46, of San Francisco, who said he visited regularly with his 18-month old son, Atom, said he had come to the reopening to support the zoo. But he acknowledged that the mauling had left the institution with work to do.
"I expect this is a pretty good wake-up call for them, to check things out," Glover said.
For The Tiger
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