Lions and tigers back on display next week

Lions and tigers back on display next week< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
< ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Tuesday, January 29, 2008
(01-28) 18:28 PST San Francisco – — The lions and tigers at the San Francisco Zoo could be back on public display next week, more than a month after they were quarantined from public view after the Christmas Day tiger attack, city and zoo officials said Monday.
The zoo’s four lions and four tigers have lived in cages behind their grotto as contractors work to raise the height of their enclosures so that the walls meet minimum safety standards. The tiger that escaped and killed a 17-year-old visitor is believed to have jumped over her grotto’s 12 1/2-foot moat wall. The minimum recommended height for such walls is about 16.4 feet.
In the weeks since the animals were quarantined, zookeepers have come up with creative ways to stimulate the cats, including entertaining them with games and toys and even showing them videos of the Disney cartoon “The Lion King.”
During the first Board of Supervisors hearing on the fatal tiger attack, zoo officials on Monday said the grotto renovations should be complete by next week. They hope to release the cats from quarantine on Feb. 7.
Although zoo officials did not offer an explanation for how the Siberian tiger, Tatiana, escaped from her enclosure last month, they did accept responsibility for the attack that killed Carlos Sousa Jr. and injured two of his friends.
“Under no circumstances is it OK for an animal to escape its enclosure,” said Nick Podell, chairman of the San Francisco Zoological Society, the nonprofit that manages the zoo in partnership with the city. “I want to deliver a mea culpa for the zoo. There is no excuse.”
A team of tiger experts from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoos around the country, arrived Saturday to inspect the enclosure. Their review is expected to conclude this week, but the findings will not immediately be released and they may never be made public, zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said.
The new enclosure surrounding the tiger grotto will consist of a concrete wall, a glass viewing area and wire-mesh fencing that stretches 19 feet high.
The upgrades will cost the city’s Recreation and Park Department about $1 million, said Yomi Agunbiade, the department’s general manager. Other changes in store for the zoo include the installation of surveillance cameras to monitor dangerous animals and visitors, a siren that would sound if a dangerous animal escapes, and electrified hot wires inside a moat in the grotto area that would emit low-voltage shocks if a cat attempts to escape.
Zoo Executive Director Manuel Mollinedo, whose job performance has come under scrutiny since the attack and who was both praised and criticized during Monday’s hearing by members of the public, said “something unusual and extraordinary happened to cause this 4 1/2-year-old Siberian tiger to get out of her habitat.”
“The zoo has had tigers in that exhibit for more than 67 years, and this is the first time a tragedy like that has occurred,” he said.
Supervisors also continued to raise questions about whether the public-private operating agreement between the Zoological Society and the city is the best way to run the zoo.
“If we really are going to have the kind of zoo that is a premier attraction,” asked Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, “what is it going to take to get that kind of zoo in San Francisco?”

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