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Zoo to close Christmas Day for tiger victim

Zoo to close Christmas Day for tiger victim

John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, August 22, 2008

The San Francisco Zoo will be closed on Christmas Day this year, the first anniversary of the mauling death of a 17-year-old visitor killed after a tiger escaped its enclosure.

Although the zoo for decades has been a popular destination for non-Christian families on Dec. 25, officials said the one-time closure would honor Carlos Sousa Jr. of San Jose, who was killed by the 242-pound Siberian tiger. The animal was fatally shot by police as it attacked two of Sousa’s friends. The closure will also benefit zoo staffers still shaken by the tragedy, officials said.

The move came after the Recreation and Parks Commission also voted to raise zoo admission fees starting Sept. 1, hiking them more than 30 percent for adult city residents. The increase will help boost revenue in the face of increased operational costs and a slide in attendance.

Commission President Larry Martin said the Christmas Day closure is “for a special reason – for the loss of that young man.”

Sousa’s family and the two survivors of the tiger attack are suing the city and the zoo.

Tanya Peterson, acting executive director of the San Francisco Zoological Society, said she decided to seek a one-day zoo closure after being approached by several employees. The zoo is normally open every day of the year.

“This is a request made by the San Francisco Zoo employees themselves,” Peterson said. “There is an overwhelming desire to avoid reliving the events of last year’s tragedy.”

Peterson said she had not been in contact with Sousa’s family about the closure.

That one-day closure will have little impact on revenues, but the higher entrance fees will help counter rising costs for employee health care, workers’ compensation insurance and animal food, zoo officials said.

A new state law will also now require the zoo to pay its water bill, a $310,000 hit this fiscal year that had previously been covered by the city, said Wayne Reading, chief financial officer for the San Francisco Zoological Society. The city owns the zoo animals and the property and acts as the landlord. The city gives a yearly $4.1 million “administrative fee” to the Zoological Society, which runs the day-to-day operations.

“We’re experiencing some pretty substantial cost increases,” Reading said, citing the water bill and insurance costs as “major, major increases in expenses for the institution.”

The fee increases, which bring the cost of a ticket for an adult city resident from $9 to $12, are the first since 2005, zoo officials said. With them, prices remain competitive with similar facilities across the country, Reading said.

Zoo officials pointed to annual memberships, which start at $60 for adults and include parking and a guest pass, as an option for repeat visitors.

Earlier this month, the zoo announced it would no longer offer a once-a-month free day to people who live outside San Francisco starting in September. San Francisco residents will still be able to get free admission on the first Wednesday of the month.

Officials said they ended the program, which regularly attracts up to five times the average number of visitors, because of a notable increase in people taunting the animals on those free days.

San Francisco Zoo tickets
Tickets for admission to the zoo will go up starting Sept. 1. Here’s what it will cost if you go.

San Francisco residents

– Adult: Increases from $9 to $12

– Seniors: Increases from $4.50 to $7.50

– Children 3-14: Increases from $2.50 to $5.50

– Children under 3 years old are free.

Nonresidents

– Adult: Increases from $11 to $15

– Seniors: Increases from $8 to $12

– Children 3-14: Increases from $5 to $9

– Children under 3 years old are free.

The youth admission category will be eliminated. Children will be categorized as 3 to 14; adults as 15 to 64; seniors as 65 and up.

Source: Presentation to Recreation and Park Commission

E-mail John Coté at jcote@sfchronicle.com.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/21/BAGL12GFGH.DTL

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