Tiger goes on walk-about in CA zoo

Tiger’s outing on grounds of Hesperia Zoo prompts excitement, crowd

By KATHERINE ROSENBERG / Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

HESPERIA — With a freeroaming tiger and dozens of fascinated people lining the streets on foot and in their cars, it looked like the circus had come to town.

But despite the crowd, the mood was anything but lighthearted at the Hesperia Zoo in the 19000 block of Willow Street when a 500-pound Bengal tiger escaped from its cage just after 1 p.m. Friday.

The tiger is said to have attacked a nearby donkey, biting its neck and the back of one of its legs after it escaped from an unlocked cage while the tiger’s cage was being cleaned, city officials said. The donkey is expected to recover from its minor injuries.

“The tiger … attacked the donkey and another female there fired a shot (into the air) to distract the tiger from attacking the donkey and the handler, fearing for her own safety, jumped into a van,” said Roxanne Walker, spokeswoman for the Hesperia station. “Later, we were able to get her out of there, unharmed.”

But the tiger remained out of its cage as officials from the Sheriff’s Department, Hesperia Animal Control and the California Department of Fish and Game arrived on scene. For hours, the tiger was removed from other animals and people, yet not in its cage.

As word of the loose tiger spread, Willow Street became increasingly flooded with visitors, wondering what was going on.

George Hurley, who has lived across the street from the zoo for the past 3 1 /2 years, said he was never worried about the situation. In fact, he and his wife purchased their lot of land and built their home across from the zoo intentionally, because they enjoy being near the animals.

“They are saying that tigers can’t jump fences, so I’m not worried about it. The odds of something happening are rare. There’s more of a possibility of being injured in an (automobile) accident,” Hurley said.

He was working in his back yard when he noticed all the commotion, and came to the front of the house to see what happened.

“I saw animal control followed by the sheriff’s and then an ambulance came, and then everybody came. I thought, there’s got to be a problem. The sheriff’s got out with a shotgun, and I thought, ‘uh-oh, something got loose,’ ” Hurley said. “My concern was for the animal. Mistakes happen at any zoo. I just imagine everyone is worried about getting it back in the cage safely.”

About 4:30 p.m., it seemed that would finally be possible. Scott Priester, the city’s development services director, told the Daily Press that workers did not have the correct tranquilizer darts on hand. Rather, they had tranquilizers that would work for domestic animals.

Priester said that the tiger was not on its way to a photo shoot, as was initially reported, but that the animal got loose during the routine cleaning of its cage. He said that two cages are set side by side for that purpose, but the cage the tiger was moved into was not locked.

Later in the day, the appropriate darts arrived on scene and the tiger was shot at least four times, in order to induce sleep, Walker said. The tiger was expected to be moved back to its cage when it fell asleep.

Officials from the Hesperia Zoo repeatedly declined to comment, stating that the zoo is private property and the media is not welcome.

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