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San Francisco Zoo tiger attacks


Two tiger attacks at the San Francisco Zoo occurred on December 22, 2006 and December 25, 2007, both involving a 243-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana (June 27, 2003 — December 25, 2007). In the first incident, a zookeeper was bitten on the arm during a public feeding. During the second incident, in which two people were injured and one killed, police officers fatally shot the tiger.[1]

First attack: zookeeper injured

Tatiana was born in Denver on June 27, 2003. She was brought to the San Francisco Zoo on December 16, 2005 to provide a 14-year-old Siberian tiger, Tony, with a mate. Tony's prior companion, Emily, had died of cancer of the spleen in late 2005. Tatiana had no record of aggression towards humans.[2]

During a public feeding on December 22, 2006, Tatiana clawed and bit veteran zookeeper Lori Komejan's arm which was pulled between the cage bars.[2] Komejan's right arm was severely injured as a result.[3] The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration later found the zoo at fault due to inadequate safety precautions and inadequate staff training.[4] The San Francisco Zoo was fined US$18,000 for the incident.[5] The Zoo decided not to euthanize Tatiana after the attack on Komejan; then-director Manuel Mollinedo said "the tiger was acting as a normal tiger does.

Second attack: injuries and fatality

On December 25, 2007, Tatiana escaped from her open-air enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and attacked three visitors shortly after closing time.[7][8] After escaping from the tiger grotto, Tatiana killed one patron, Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr., aged 17, and injured two others, Amritpal "Paul" and Kulbir Dhaliwal, brothers aged 19 and 23. The brothers fled to the zoo cafe approximately 300 yards (270 m) away and, according to initial reports, left a trail of blood that the tiger followed. Paul Dhaliwal, 19, began screaming outside the locked Terrace Cafe, prompting an employee to call 9-1-1 at 5:07 pm.[9]

Police response was initially delayed, in part because cafe personnel who called the police voiced suspicions that perhaps the allegations of an animal attack were being made by a mentally unstable person. When the police and fire crews arrived at the zoo, they were further delayed by zoo security guards who were enforcing a lockdown so that the tiger would not escape the zoo grounds.

Carlos Sousa was found near the tiger grotto by a zoo employee who remained with him until rescue crews arrived.[10] The scene was chaotic, and as late as 13 minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call, police officers and fire department paramedics reached Carlos Sousa's body and found his throat slashed or punctured.[9] His autopsy later revealed that he had blunt force injuries of the head and neck, many punctures and scratches to his head, neck and chest, skull and spinal fractures, and a cut to his jugular vein.[11]

When four police officers and a zoo shooting team member[10] reached the tiger, they found her with one of the brothers, Kulbir Dhaliwal. They did not shoot Tatiana immediately, according to the SF police chief, because they could not be assured of "contain[ing] their fire" without risk to human life. After distraction, the tiger turned towards the officers and was shot and killed.[1] After the shooting, Tatiana's head, paws, and tail were removed by the San Francisco police department's crime scene investigation unit.[11] Her gastric contents were taken also.[12] They were taken in seven packages to the Medical Examiner's office for necropsy and tooth impressions.[11] The M.E.'s office reported that one of the police officers had fired through Tatiana's forehead.[11] An examination of Tatiana's stomach contents revealed only the remnants of small animals, and no human tissue.[12]

The Dhaliwal brothers received deep bites and claw wounds on their heads, necks, arms, and hands. Their injuries were not life-threatening, and they were released from the hospital on December 29, 2007.

Wall height and history

Two days after the attack, on December 27, 2007, the zoo retracted its prior claim that the grotto's moat wall was 18 feet (5.5 m) tall, after officials measured it and found it was actually 12.5 feet (3.8 m) tall. The AZA recommendation for big cat enclosures is a moat wall of 16.5 feet (5.0 m). Tatiana's paws were also found to carry concrete chips, suggesting that she climbed out of the moat using her claws on the wall.[27]

The attack was the first visitor fatality due to an animal escape at a member zoo, in the history of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to the association.[28]

A 1996 zoo visitor reported an incident in which a tiger leapt and got a paw on top of the wall, but slipped down. She said that a zoo employee dismissed the incident as a regular occurrence and that her letter to the zoo's director went unanswered.[27][29]

It was not immediately apparent how Tatiana had escaped, but police said that Tatiana may have "leaped" or "climbed" the walls of her enclosure.[30] Police undertook a criminal investigation to determine whether one of the victims "climbed over a waist-high fence and then dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of a moat that kept the big cat away from the public"[1] but did not immediately provide public substantiation for this hypothesis.[24]

On February 16, 2008, the zoo re-opened the exterior tiger exhibit which was extensively renovated to meet the extension of the concrete moat wall up to the minimum height of 16 feet 4 inches from the bottom of the moat, installation of glass fencing on the top of the wall to extend the height to 19 feet, and installation of electrified "hotwire."[31]

The zoo also installed portable loudspeakers which remind visitors to leave promptly at the 5 p.m. closing time and "Protect the Animals" signs which read:

Help make the zoo a safe environment. The magnificent animals in the zoo are wild and possess all their natural instincts. You are a guest in their home. Please remember they are sensitive and have feelings. PLEASE don't tap on glass, throw anything into exhibits, make excessive noise, tease or call out to them.

Legal consequences

First attack

On December 12, 2008, the zookeeper injured in December 2006, Lori Komejan, settled her lawsuit with the city and the zoo shortly before it was due to go trial in January, 2009.[33] Tatiana's attack on Komejan's arm left her permanently impaired and severely scarred. Komejan, 48 at the time of the settlement, endured multiple surgeries and skin grafts after the December 2006 attack, but was unable to attain full function in her right arm.[33] Her suit alleged that an unsafe condition existed due to the failure to install effective safeguards for the tiger cage, which was remodeled and re-opened in September 2007. The terms of the settlement were not released to the public, but Komejan's attorney, Michael Mandel, said "The case was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides." The city did not comment.[33] Because the settlement was paid by insurance company funds rather than directly by the city, the amount is not public record.[34] In addition, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the zoo $18,000 for the incident.[34]
[edit] Second attack

In January 2008, the lead investigator for the city said that the men may have harassed Tatiana, but no charges were filed against them for such behavior.[35] Taunting a zoo animal is a misdemeanor in San Francisco.[32]

On March 27, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers filed claims with the city of San Francisco seeking compensation for their injuries and emotional harm.[36]

In mid-2008, the city rejected the first claims filed earlier that year by both the Sousa family and the Dhaliwal brothers.[37] On June 30, 2008, the City of San Francisco denied responsibility for the tiger attacks, referring the claim of Sousa's parents to the San Francisco Zoological Society.[38] The terms of the zoo's lease with the city require the Zoological Society to indemnify the city from any claims arising from zoo operations.[37]

In November 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers followed up their initial filing with a new suit in federal court which accused city and zoo officials of defamation for suggesting the young men had provoked the tiger, in addition to a claim of negligence for the incident itself.[37]

In the last week of December 2008, the city filed a lien in the federal lawsuit brought by the Dhaliwals against the zoo. The lien is intended to recover over $75,000 for medical care spent on Kulbir Dhaliwal in city facilities. The city did not comment on why no similar lien was filed to recover the expenses of Amritpal Dhaliwal's care.[35]

On December 23, 2008, the parents of Carlos Eduardo Sousa filed suit against the city and the zoo. Marilza and Carlos Sousa Sr. claimed wrongful death of their son, a minor, and asserted in their filing that the zoo ignored industry standards and warnings from its own staff that the tiger enclosure was insufficient to contain Tatiana. Their attorney, Michael Cardoza said the suit sought unspecified damages for wrongful death, negligence, reckless conduct and maintaining a public nuisance.[37] The suit was settled in February 2009; terms of the settlement were not disclosed.[39]

The suit filed by the Dhaliwals was settled in May 2009 for terms including a payment of $900,000 to the brothers by the zoo.




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