San Francisco Zoo closes Lion House after mauling

Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Siberian tiger that attacked her keeper was roaming her outdoor habitat with the San Francisco Zoo’s other big cats Saturday, but visitors can no longer watch the animals being fed.

That’s because the zoo’s popular Lion House, where the feedings take place, will remain closed indefinitely while officials try to determine what led the tiger to lunge Friday and claw the arms of a keeper who has worked at the zoo for nearly 10 years.

The 350-pound cat, named Tatiana, attacked at 2:15 p.m., shortly after feeding time. The San Francisco Fire Department was called at 2:22 p.m. Zoo officials hope that accounts from employees who saw the incident — and from the keeper, when she is ready — will clear up what happened, zoo spokesman Paul Garcia said.

Zoo authorities would not identify the keeper, but sources told The Chronicle she was Lori Komejan. She suffered deep lacerations to her arms and underwent surgery Friday at San Francisco General Hospital. Garcia declined to comment Saturday on her condition at the family’s request.

Komejan, a talented artist who likes to draw animals, has worked at the zoo since 1997.

She was attacked in the Lion House shortly after keepers fed the zoo’s three tigers and four lions. Each animal receives 3 to 5 pounds of horsemeat through double doors in their cages. Once the keeper puts the food inside, the door on the keeper’s side closes and one on the cat’s side opens.

All went well during the feeding, zoo officials said, but minutes later Tatiana grabbed Komejan’s arms. It’s not known whether Tatiana squeezed her paw through her cage bars, which are just a few inches apart, or whether Komejan was close enough for Tatiana to strike.

Zookeepers in the Lion House when the attack occurred grabbed Komejan and pulled her away as dozens of visitors watched.

Until now, the zoo has allowed patrons to watch the feeding from behind a barrier about 4 feet from the cages. Zoo employees move freely between the cage and the barrier.

It is not clear what, if anything, will happen to Tatiana. Robert Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care and conservation, said the animal had no history of aggression toward humans, and that it is “not normal procedure” to euthanize a big animal for such behavior. Garcia said the cat will not be examined as part of the zoo’s investigation of the attack.

Tatiana was born in Denver on June 27, 2003, and brought to San Francisco last December as a companion for Tony, a 14-year-old Siberian tiger whose sibling and lifelong companion died in late 2004.

E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at csquatriglia@sfchronicle.com.

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