Tiger at Calgary zoo that mauled intruder did nothing wrong: Keeper

Tiger at Calgary zoo that mauled intruder did nothing wrong: Keeper

By Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald
October 5, 2009 8:40 PM

CALGARY — A Siberian tiger that brutally mauled a man Monday morning was only doing what comes naturally, say Calgary zoo officials.

“Vitali did nothing wrong. It’s his natural behaviour. They broke into his home,” said zookeeper Tim Sinclair-Smith later in the day.

Just after 1 a.m. local time Monday, a pair of 27-year-old men scaled the zoo’s 2.4-metre-high fence near the west public gate.

Inside, they hopped another one-metre-high fence designed to keep the public at a safe distance from the Siberian tiger enclosure.

While the man was standing in front of a second fence that keeps the cats secure, a two-year-old male tiger named Vitali caught his arm through the wires, biting and swiping at him. The man’s friend managed to free him and the pair scrambled to safety.

“I think it’s fair to say that, if anybody puts their mind to it, they can breach any kind of security — and that certainly seems to be the case here,” said the zoo’s director, Grahame Newton.

The motive behind Monday’s dangerous stunt at the zoo, which sent one man to hospital with serious injuries, remains a mystery.

They called the cellphone of their on-duty, female security-guard friend, who raced to their aid and took them to the security office, police and zoo officials say.

Within minutes, EMS rushed the injured man to a Calgary hospital with deep wounds to his arms that are “significant,” zoo officials said in a news conference Monday.

Police say criminal charges of break and enter and trespassing are pending against the men.

Police say there is no indication the woman, one of four patrolling the 80-acre zoo grounds overnight, was part of the break-in caper.

“They were not let into the zoo,” said acting Staff Sgt. Rick Halford.

“There’s no indication that the offender had made contact with the security officer prior to entering the zoo. I don’t think that was their intention to contact that person; I think it was just something they stumbled onto.”

The motive for the reckless and dangerous stunt is unknown, but alcohol could be at the root of the lark.

“There’s no indication that the two offenders were involved in anything other than just being silly, I suppose,” said Halford.

The victim, who suffered serious bite and claw injuries, remains in hospital. He was sedated, and police did not have a chance to interview him after the attack.

Zookeepers say the tiger, “one of our most laid-back cats,” was likely spooked by the intruders.

The cat, who showed signs of being stressed after the break-in, suffered no injuries to his paws or mouth and eventually calmed down.

“He’s perfectly fine. A tiger is a carnivore, so they’re going to behave naturally, and that’s his natural reaction,” said Sinclair-Smith.

The tiger was either acting out of aggression or protecting himself, said Dr. Sandie Black, the zoo’s head vet.

“(The tiger) has a fairly significant armament at his disposal: very sharp claws. My guess would be that the gentleman was hooked by a claw and his arm dragged in and continued to be attacked from that point.”

Vitali was spending the night outdoors while females Kita, 14, and nine-year-old Katja were inside the building.

The tigers kept at the Calgary Zoo are Siberian Tigers that can be anywhere from 3.05 to 3.66 metres in length and weigh up to 306 kilograms, according to the zoo website. It is the largest cat species in the world.

Animal experts say Siberian tigers are tremendous hunters, and have the ability to leap up to 10 metres, although they usually jump half that distance during regular activities. The animals are also known to fiercely defend their territories and food resources within those areas.

A similar incident happened in San Francisco just a week ago. On Sept. 26, a man snuck into a grizzly-bear pen at the San Francisco Zoo, but was promptly spotted and removed. The man was uninjured in that incident.

Officials there credit new security measures implemented since a 2007 attack — by a Siberian Tiger — at the San Francisco Zoo that killed one man and injured two others.




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