Sunday, August 29, 2010

Loose Bengal tiger causes brief panic at Jungle Island

Loose Bengal tiger causes brief panic at Jungle Island

Posted on Sat, Aug. 28, 2010

A 3-year-old Bengal tiger got loose at Jungle Island on Saturday, causing panic and sending park-goers running for safety on the Watson Island attraction off the McArthur Causeway linking Miami to Miami Beach.

Five people were treated at the scene by Miami Fire Rescue workers, said Fire Lt. Ignatius Carroll, including an unidentified woman in her 30s or 40s who was transferred to a Miami hospital suffering a panic attack.

Ashley Serrate, public relations manager for the park, estimated that the episode took place before noon and lasted less than a half hour. It was not immediately known how the tiger got out of its enclosure or how it was recaptured.

But park guest Larry Rhodes, 46, of Pompano Beach, said he was in lockdown inside a barn at the park for 90 minutes while staff handled the crisis.

``People were running for their lives,'' Rhodes told The Miami Herald.

A Miami police statement said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had launched an investigation and ``have taken over the entire incident.''

The police added that they were alerted to the episode by a flurry of 911 calls ``from frantic patrons stating they encountered a tiger that had gone lose on the Jungle Island Park grounds.''

For Miami mom Dorothy Evans, there with two small children for a birthday party, the first sign of trouble came when they spotted a monkey loose in the park.

A running crowd of staff and visitors soon followed, shouting and heading their way.

``We were really scared. There were people crying,'' said Evans, who had come to the park with her family, including an infant and a toddler. ``We thought it was because of the loose monkey but they said it was because of the tiger.''

Staff members then told them to run to the barn area.

The scene got so chaotic at one point, Evans said, that park visitors were knocking each other down. One child scraped his face.

Carroll said two of those treated on the spot included a mother and her 15-month-old baby. The mother, whose name was not given, was ``running trying to get somewhere safe, and fell on top of the baby'' who suffered some scratches. ``Nothing life threatening,'' the fire lieutenant said.

Also treated, he said, was a pregnant woman who ran and later complained of abdominal pains and another woman.

Serrate said the tiger, named Mahesh, got excited when a park worker went past her cage with a Gibbon ape called Watson.

A staff worker was transporting Watson for a vaccine and medical care when Mahesh spotted it, she said. She could not elaborate on how the cat scaled a 14-foot-high enclosure, but she said the tiger was recaptured after workers moved a transport cage near the tiger, who walked into it ``on her own.''

But Carroll, who was not at the scene, said he understood that Jungle Island staff ``put some food inside one of their rolling cages and the cat just strolled right on.''

Serrate, refusing to permit reporters from entering the park, said the tiger's 14-foot fence was four feet higher than regulation.

Even three hours after the episode there was still confusion at the popular attraction, once known as Parrot Jungle.

Serrate first invited reporters inside to speak to ``the witnesses now back enjoying the park'' and see that business had returned to normal. An undisclosed number of guests who wanted to leave received refunds of their $32.95 for adults and $24.95 for children admissions fees.

When a Miami Herald reporter and photographer reached the park, Serrate was blocking their path. ``I cannot allow media into the park today,'' she declared.

Park officials also were not able to specify the last time the attraction that once called itself Parrot Jungle had a potentially dangerous animal on the loose.

Jungle Island, which moved to its current location from Pinecrest in the mid 1990s, is popular with children and is often the site of large gatherings like corporate picnics.