By Rosemarie Bernardo
City officials are scrambling to construct an extended, fenced enclosure at a Honolulu Zoo exhibit, after Thursday’s brief escape by Berani, a 245-pound Sumatran tiger.
“I directed my zoo director this morning to begin immediate preparations to start taking bids,” Sidney Quintal, director of the city Department of Enterprise Services, said yesterday. The extended enclosure is expected to be built within weeks.
He also said an investigation into the escape is ongoing.
“I can only apologize to the people of Honolulu for this oversight that is right now centered around human error,” Quintal said.
Berani escaped from the new tiger exhibit at about 8:15 a.m. Thursday, 45 minutes before the zoo opened, by walking through two gates that were apparently left unsecured by a zoo keeper.
The male tiger entered a holding area behind the old tiger exhibit where a volunteer, who was cleaning one of the feeding rooms in the area, saw Berani.
“Berani just came walking by like she didn’t exist,” Quintal said. She exited the holding area, locked the gate and broadcast a “code red” alert via radios.
Zoo officials say the tiger was loose for about five minutes in an area with only a 4-foot fence that it could have jumped over to roam the zoo.
After Berani was contained in the holding area, it took about 15 to 20 minutes to coax him into one of the feeding rooms with a meatball. The brief escape was resolved before the zoo opened to the public at 9 a.m.
Zoo officials believe Berani was looking for Chrissie, a female Sumatran tiger. Both Berani and Chrissie arrived at the Honolulu Zoo from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana at the end of November. Both tigers were held in quarantine in the old exhibit and holding area, Quintal said. The new tiger exhibit was built in hopes that Berani and Chrissie will breed again to increase the Sumatran tiger population.
The zoo keeper apparently left the two gates unsecured after he cleaned the new tiger exhibit and headed into another exhibit, Quintal said.
He assured the public that the zoo is still safe and that the error will not affect the zoo’s accreditation. The Honolulu Zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Quintal said they will notify the association about the error. About 1,000 people visit the zoo daily.
Both the zoo keeper and the volunteer were traumatized by the escape, Quintal said.
The zoo keeper feels extreme guilt for the mistake, Quintal said, describing him as a competent, valuable employee who has worked at the zoo for 10 years.
Quintal said there would be repercussions for the employee, but he did not give any details.
He said the new enclosure will extend about eight to 15 feet from the new exhibit’s access area to encase the unmarked path that Berani took to the holding area behind the old exhibit.
City officials also will look into installing tension springs for all gates of predatory exhibits so gates automatically close.
Some organizations, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called for federal officials to investigate the error. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal care unit, PETA wrote that the zoo “apparently violated two sections of the Animal Welfare Act dealing with the safe handling of animals and the integrity of the zoo’s structures.”
Quintal said he did not see the PETA letter. “I take offense to it. It was not an intentional incident. It was a tragic human error that occurred. We take as many precautions as necessary to ensure the health and welfare of these animals,” he said.
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