And we thought we were telling the truth

When my kids were little and we took them to the San Francisco Zoo my son would always need reassurance on the way home:

“Are you sure the lions and tigers won’t follow us home?”

“We’re sure. They can’t escape from the zoo. You saw the big moats around their cages, didn’t you?”

“You’re super, dooper sure that a lion won’t come into my bedroom?”

“We promise. It won’t escape.”

While the likelihood of a lion or tiger leaving the zoo and heading across the Golden Gate to our house is still small, it turned out we were so very wrong when we told our little guy the lions and tigers couldn’t escape. One did tonight, with horrific consequences:

One zoo visitor was killed and two injured early this evening in an attack by a Siberian tiger that somehow managed to escape from her enclosed grotto. The horrific mauling witnessed by other zoo patrons came nearly a year to the day after the same tiger almost chewed the arm off one of her zookeepers during a public feeding demonstration.

The zoo will be closed Wednesday out of respect for the unnamed victims, described by authorities as men in their 20s. One of the men was killed outside the grotto where the tigers are kept; the other two men were attacked about 300 yards away at a cafe. The incident happened about 20 minutes after the zoo’s 5 p.m. closing time.

The tiger, named Tatiana, was killed by four police officers who tracked it to a cafe and found it atop one of the victims. A police spokesman said the officers distracted the animal, which turned and approached the officers who opened fire with .40-caliber handguns.

Investigators today plan to comb the San Francisco Zoo to piece together how Tatiana escaped from her grotto, which is surrounded by a 15-foot-wide moat and 20-foot-tall wall, said Bob Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care and conservation.

Officials refused to rule out carelessness or criminal activity.

My thoughts go to the families of the victims, both living and dead. And I’ll never again comfortably be able to tell my kids that zoos are completely safe.

UPDATEThere’s more news today about the story although, as yet, no information about how the tiger escaped.  Here’s the part that really surprised me, although it was hinted at in yesterday’s story:

Alerted by frantic calls from the zoo, four officers arrived in two police cars and tracked the tiger to the cafe. The tiger was sitting next to one victim but, when the officers arrived, it resumed its attack.

“The tiger jumped back on top,” police Sgt. Steve Mannina said. “The victim had blood on his face.”

The animal, distracted by the four officers and by the flashing red lights of the patrol cars, abandoned its victim and advanced toward the officers, Mannina said. The officers all fired their .40-caliber handguns, striking the tiger an unknown number of times.

In other words, even though the Zoo is filled with dangerous animals, the Zoo did not itself have readily available any way to subdue the animals — no guns, no fast acting tranquilizer darts, etc.  Instead, the Zoo had to wait for the SF Police to come rescue it.  This means that, if there had been a major traffic accident on the Great Highway or at the Sloat/19th intersection, help might have been slow in arriving, and many more people could have died or been injured.

Doesn’t it seem strange to you that the Zoo had not readied itself for the risk of an animal attack?  Nor does it excuse the Zoo that no one, as yet, knows how the animal escaped.  A single powerful spring might be so anomalous that no one prepares for it, but there’s always the risk that some loony-tunes releases an animal or, as we’ve seen in other Zoo stories, enters an animal’s enclosure.


15 Responses


  2. You are correct with one thing…zoos are not safe. How can they be when the majority of the animals there do not belong in a cage. They are wild animals and do you think they want to be there? Of course not so any chance they can get, they will try to get out of being confined. Unfortunately we have to have a loss of life to bring this to the press. My thoughts as well go out to the families of the victims. Unfortunately they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The blame always gets put on the animal in situations like this when it shouldn’t. They are wild animals and acting on their instincts.

  3. That’s a terrible thing that visitors to the zoo were injured and killed and that the tiger had to be killed too. I hope you update this post, Book, after the zoo investigates and determines how the tiger escaped her grotto.

  4. This is why people are been designed and evolved to carry tools of violence, whether that be weapons if their bare hands aren’t adequate or long term strategic thinking.

  5. My thoughts go to the families of the victims, both living and dead. And I’ll never again comfortably be able to tell my kids that zoos are completely safe.,/b>

    The only way to be completely safe, Book, is to be the one doing the violence. Not the one having the violence done upon.

  6. Decadence and civilization carries a price. Which is that your citizens will be killed by those that have been born with the use of violence, whether that be wild predators or the human predators.

    By channeling the energies of aggression and violence into productive work and community cooperation, great things may be done. But as with all things, there is a price attached. Similar to many punishments dealt by God or nature, that price is often unavoidable death and injury through failure or malice.

    Thus the recommendation of rich folks that can afford to hire others to protect them, is that one should not become the predator. Of course, not everyone has the money to hire Blackwater or personal bodyguards. But that’s the natural lot of the serfs to the aristocracy.

    This is related to the double thinking that occurs when one fights terrorists but must not use the tools of violence that the terrorists use. Or that one must fight criminals without using the violence that criminals use, for that would make us criminals (and does in Britain and Australia).

    Given the fact that it takes more energy to cooperate and build something together, than it takes to use the tool of violence to end a life, destroy a building, or shatter a group, it will always be easier for criminals, malcontents, malicious individuals, and incompetents to wreck the work and lives of others. This is regardless of whether the tiger got out through human error, human intent, or its own natural abilities.

    To restate an obvious point, if safety is your goal then you must get to the top of the food chain by becoming the greatest predator on Earth. People and civilizations can try their damndest to try and protect everyone, but it won’t help you personally out when your number is called.

  7. My heart goes out to the victims of this attack, but the point made by an earlier poster is correct. The tiger was just doing what it does. It’s a wild animal, a carnivorous predator that feasts on live prey. Horrible as it is to contemplate, that is likely how it saw those people.

    Somehow, somewhere, though, someone messed up, either in allowing a door to remain open, opening a door that was supposed to be closed, or designing an enclosure that wasn’t adequate to keep the tigers inside. That needs to be investigated.


  8. There are, I estimate, several hundred zoos or animal attractions in North America and animals escaping are a rarity (except for the occasional python or boa from a private collection). Most animal attacks, again I speculate, are probably dogs attacking people in urban settings. Zoo animals injuring their handlers are not uncommon, but these are people working in close proximity to the animal. A tiger escaping from a zoo is very unusual; if anybody can research another such incident, let me know. The SF Zoo will be looking at some major legal problems in the near future.

  9. Christmas Greetings:

    I would very much appreciate your analysis of the SF Zoo Tiger attack and the two fatal dog maulings of the last several years.

  10. I would not be surprised if it turns out some animal rights activist or whatever they are called let the tiger escape.

  11. How many escapes from zoos do we read about in the course of a year? Damn few, it seems to me, just thinking anecdotally and doing no research whatsoever. And when it does happen, it’s usually traceable to a human breakdown, not a fence too low or a moat not wide enough. I would bet a fair amount this too was a human breakdown, something got left open, or an activist somehow found the means to release the animal – something went wrong and it was with a person.

    I know zip about the SF zoo, but the Bronx Zoo most certainly is equipped to deal with just about anything, and has plenty of people with training in the use of strategically located tranquilizer dart guns to put the animals prettyy much instantaneously to sleep. Having grown up with the Bronx Zoo, I must admit I supposed most zoos did; it’s something of a surprise to hear SF (apparently) does not.

    Sad situation, undoubtedly of human orgin.

  12. Animal maulings in a zoo are sufficiently rare to be newsworthy.

    I’ll bet anything that the number of people killed by domestic animals is FAR higher than those killed by zoo animals – in fact, I bet EACH of the following is more common than ALL zoo animals put together….dogs, horses, bovines.

    It’s kind of like passenger jets — when one goes down, it’s spectacular and the photos and stories dominate the news, while the politicians posture and promise to “do something”, which generally turns out badly. Meanwhile, how many thousands of us are killed on the highways, totally anonymous, because it’s so common.

    Humans are an interesting lot.

  13. You said:
    A single powerful spring might …..


    Makes no sense.

  14. What’s up, I just found your blog – thank you for writing. Just wanted to let you know that it’s not showing up properly on the BlackBerry Browser (I have a Bold). Anyway, I’m now on your RSS feed on my laptop, so thanks!

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