By Mike Nizza
From the outside, a tiger’s escape from its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo may have seemed beyond reality. From the inside, it was not only real; it meant work to do.
Assessing the results was the job of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a group that sets and enforces standards at more than 200 zoos in North America. After interviewing many of the employees involved in the incident in San Francisco, the A.Z.A. said that the zoo’s response was “impressive,” though it cited “some exceptions” summarized by The San Francisco Chronicle:
Most employees had been sent home before the zoo closed; a security supervisor didn’t believe initial reports that a dangerous animal had escaped; and a zookeeper responding to the incident couldn’t find keys needed to access a shotgun.
The report also slams zoo managers for not properly training some employees.
According to the A.Z.A.’s accounting [pdf], the zoo has addressed many of the weaknesses brought to light by the incident, in which a 17-year-old boy was killed and two of his friends were wounded. However, the inquiry steered clear of a question that may be the most burning: Did the boys taunt the tiger, as the police suspect? No charges were ever filed in the case; lawyers for the boys have vowed to sue the zoo.
Two zoo employees who were harshly criticized in the report were unavailable for interviews with investigators. Ray Lim, the head of one of the zoo’s eateries, refused to allow the boys inside, assuming that they had been fighting with other humans rather than the tiger. One of the boys was bleeding from his head and the other was “very belligerent,” another zoo official said.
In fact, they were telling the truth about having gotten away from the tiger just minutes beforehand. But they were kept outside the cafe until the arrival of a seasonal zoo employee named Galo Paz, who had heard on a radio that the boys needed first aid. The investigators determined that Mr. Paz had acted unsatisfactorily, since he was not ordered to go to the scene.
In the end, police officers, not zoo employees, shot the loose tiger, which was named Tatiana. The report provides a terrifying account of her final moments at an outdoor cafe where she found Mr. Paz and the two friends of the boy she killed (the two friends were brothers):
While standing with the uninjured brother, Paz sees the tiger approaching the uninjured brother from behind. Both Paz and the uninjured brother slowly back away. The tiger approaches both of them and swipes at their legs knocking the uninjured brother down. Paz runs away in the opposite direction passing SFPD cars on the way headed toward the Terrace Cafe.
The San Francisco Police escorted by Zookeeper Brown turn the corner in the police car at the rhino exhibit to discover the tiger sitting in front of the entrance to the Terrace Café, facing one injured guest who is sitting alone supported by his arms with legs outstretched in front of him on the sidewalk facing the tiger. The tiger looks at the police car arriving and pounces on the young man pushing him on his back to the ground. Additional San Francisco police arrive to the opposite side of the Terrace Café by car from the front gate as the first car of police observes the tiger jumping onto the victim. Radio calls are heard saying “Blue on blue,” meaning police in a crossfire. Shots are heard. Fourteen 40-caliber pistol shell casings are recovered in front of the café afterward. As the tiger leaves the victim and approaches the open police car both officers jump back in the car in which Zookeeper Brown is riding in the back seat.
The tiger falls to the ground next to the open passenger door from which the officer was firing his handgun.
The full report was posted by The Chronicle as a pdf document.
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