SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — On Christmas, it will be five years since the deadly tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo. Tatiana, a 320 pound Siberian tiger, killed one person and injured two others that night, after making an amazing escape from the Tiger Grotto. ABC7 News reporter Vic Lee was the first reporter to respond; he talked to the father of the victim and with one of the officers who shot and killed Tatiana.
Even in death, it’s hard to miss Tatiana. She now graces the front entrance of the zoo.
Her former home, the tiger grotto, is still there. But it now has a glass enclosure, an electrified fence and signs that warn spectators not to taunt the tigers.
Although it was never proven, investigators believe Tatiana was provoked into leaping and clawing her way out of the grotto, killing 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and mauling his friends, Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal.
“Every Christmas Day, we have a mass in honor of him at church and as long as god wants me, it’s always going to be that way,” his father, Carlos Sousa said.
Sousa says it’s been a tough five years since he lost his son.
Sousa finds some solace, saying something positive did come out of this tragedy. The zoo has raised the walls 10.5 feet higher after an investigation found the grotto’s walls were lower than federal safety recommendations.
“It’s safe now; people who go to the zoo will be more comfortable now, a lot of things changed after he died,” Sousa said.
A lot did change. Sousa settled his wrongful death lawsuit with the zoo for an undisclosed amount.
The brothers settled their suit for a reported $900,000. Through the years, they’ve had several run in’s with the law. In July, Paul Dhaliwal died at the age of 24. ABC7 News was unable to find out the cause of death nor were we successful in contacting his brother Kulbir.
San Francisco Police Ofc. Chris Oshita was one of the officers who shot and killed the tiger. He later received a medal of valor.
“I’ve never personally seen a tiger maul a human in my life and that’s something I’ll never forget,” said Oshita.
Oshita and his partner were among the first to respond to the radio call. They saw paramedics by the tiger pit working on Sousa. Then they rushed to another call — a second victim was outside the Terrace Cafe.
“He’s in a seated position; he’s bleeding profusely and the tiger is sitting at his feet, kind of guarding him, just sitting there,” Oshita said.
Oshita and his partner came out of the car, yelling and screaming, trying to divert the tiger away from one of the Dhaliwal brothers. Tatiana suddenly veered toward them. When she was about 20 yards away, Oshita decided to fire his handgun. The first shot struck Tatiana in the chest but she kept coming.
“I hit the other side of the chest and again, the fur moves and she flinches and now it’s starting to pick up speed, it’s coming faster,” Oshita said. “I shoot the tiger in the face and I see the tiger flinch and put its head down and it’s still coming.”
Oshita said Tatiana was only five feet away. The officer jumped in his car but his window was wide open.
“The tiger tries to pull itself up again, trying to get to me through the window,” Oshita said.
Oshita’s partner fired the fatal shots that stopped Tatiana.
“Very sad for Carlos Sousa and his family, very sad for Tatiana, and I hope this is a situation that we can learn from and move forward,” tiger trainer Chris Austria said.
Austria says the lesson is that tigers can never really be tamed. Even though Tatiana never lived in the wild, she responded instinctively to eliminate a threat to her territory.
Many wondered if the zoo would ever adopt another Siberian tiger. To the delight of many, it did — Martha, an 11-year-old Siberian who arrived last year from a zoo in Nebraska. She’s now become one of the zoo’s most popular attractions.