SF Zoo Statements At Odds With Tiger Case Records

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SF Zoo Statements At Odds With Tiger Case Records
Jul 14, 2008 12:18 pm US/Pacific

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) ? San Francisco Zoo officials now say they were purposely trying to reduce the weight of the tiger that killed a teenager on Christmas Day by 40-50 pounds, in contrast to the zoo’s own records and earlier comments to news reporters.

Tatiana arrived from the Denver Zoo in December 2005 as a healthy two and a half year old weighing 292 pounds. Last month, a KCBS Radio investigation revealed that her weight dropped steadily in San Francisco — into the 270s in 2006, the 260s in the first half of last year, to 255 last November and to 244 eight days before the fatal attack. Her necropsy set her weight at death at 242 pounds, her lowest since she was 15 months old.

Despite the steady and significant decline, zoo veterinarian Jacqueline Jencek said in a February interview that Tatiana’s weight loss was “seasonal,” that she lost weight in winter and put it back on in summer. In the 20-minute interview, Jencek did not say the zoo was purposely trying to shed significant weight from the tiger. The dozens of pages of records obtained from the zoo also make no mention of a continuing weight reduction program for Tatiana.

But eight days after KCBS Radio and CBS 5 broadcast the original reports about Tatiana’s weight loss, Jencek told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter inquiring about the story that Tatiana was fed less to purposely lower her weight from the 290s to “about 250.” The Denver Zoo, however, said that Tatiana was healthy when she was shipped to San Francisco, and that there was “no indication that there was any concern about her weight.” In her last six months in Denver, she had weighed between 292 and 299 pounds.

According to the Chronicle, Jencek said the San Francisco Zoo had consulted several other zoos, including Denver’s, “before determining that Tatiana… should weigh about 250 pounds.” But zoo records reveal that information from the other zoos was used to support a diet increase, not a decrease, for the tiger.

On February 10, 2006, six weeks after Tatiana attacked a zookeeper by clawing and chewing her arm, she weighed in at 260 pounds. It was her first weighing since the attack and her lowest weight since her arrival, but still above the 250 pounds the zoo now says was her target. But on the very next day, the zoo approved a diet increase for Tatiana, from the 32-36 pounds a week they had fed her since her arrival to 38-42 pounds, close to what she had been fed in Denver. Attached to the diet increase request form were the notes from the other zoos, indicating larger diets for similar tigers, and apparently supporting the increase in food for Tatiana.

Five weeks later, without weighing her again, the zoo reduced her diet back to 32-36 pounds a week, because, a zoo official said, she was “gaining too much weight.” Her diet stayed at the lower amount even as she fell to 244 pounds when she was weighed on December 17, eight days before the fatal attack. She was four and a half years old.

Zoo officials declined to be interviewed about the discrepancies among their most recent statements, their own records and what they had previously told reporters.

While her necropsy showed her to be in good health, and in “good nutritional status” according to the zoo, Tatiana’s significant weight loss raised questions about whether she was getting enough to eat to satisfy a wild animal, and how that might have affected her behavior.

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