Tiger mauls zookeeper Video Link

Tiger mauls zookeeper


Video at web link below


Web Posted: 07/15/2007 10:17 AM CDT


Vianna Davila



(UPDATE: The condition of the zookeeper was upgraded to stable Sunday morning.)


A zookeeper was in critical condition Saturday after a Sumatran tiger injured the man while he was inside the animal’s enclosure at the San Antonio Zoo, prompting officials to close the facility for the rest of the day and leaving visitors scared and confused.


"We have had an accident like one that we haven’t had before," said zoo spokeswoman Dawn Campos, as she addressed a throng of reporters and dozens of zoo patrons filed out of the park behind her.


Around 2:30 p.m., 911 dispatchers received a call about a man who had suffered trauma at the zoo, in the 3900 block of North St. Mary’s Street. As sirens wailed and visitors began to leave the park, emergency radio traffic blared that the man had suffered multiple injuries to his head and also to his body.


Jeff Tierney, reportedly in his 20s, was airlifted to University Hospital after a medical helicopter landed in a baseball field at nearby Brackenridge Park. Officials said he was conscious and speaking to medical personnel.


Tierney was in critical condition when he was taken into surgery late Saturday evening, University Hospital spokeswoman Leni Kirkman said. His family asked that details of his injuries remain private, she said.


Few details were released regarding the events that led up to Saturday’s episode or what the zookeeper was doing before he sustained his injuries. Zookeepers have a variety of duties, which can include feeding the animal and cleaning the exhibit areas.


Reports indicate the man was alone in the tiger facility when he was injured.


Lynette Barrera was watching the ostriches and kangaroos across from the tiger exhibit when she heard a blood-curdling scream come from behind her.


Barrera turned, not knowing she had inadvertently left on her camcorder. The device did not pick up footage of the attack but recorded the sounds of its aftermath: on the tape, the screams get louder and louder as people begin running toward Barrera. At least one child is heard wailing for its mother.


"It was very sad," said Barrera. "There were so many people crying — kids, adults — it was awful."


This was the first incident Campos knew of a tiger acting aggressively toward a human, and the first time in more than a dozen years that any animal at the facility has seriously injured a person.


In 1992, a 37-year-old Asian elephant named Ginny picked up a zookeeper with her trunk and threw him. The man later died from severe head injuries. Nine years earlier, a 410-pound gorilla named Mopie seriously injured a zoo employee after the keeper squirted the animal with water while cleaning its cage.


How Tierney escaped once he was injured also was unclear. Campos said she understood he somehow got out of the area on his own.


Several people Barrera spoke with who witnessed the attack said the tiger was nowhere in sight when the zookeeper appeared in the main exhibit area, which is separated from visitors by a moat, a zoo official said.


At some point, the tiger emerged from its den and suddenly grabbed or scratched the man on the neck and dragged him, witnesses told Barrera.


Campos would only confirm that some visitors did see the attack.


But most patrons had no idea what had transpired as they were asked to leave.


Officials never told patrons that one of the animals had attacked a keeper. Because the tiger never got out of its caged area, Campos said, "Patrons didn’t have to know, because they were never in any danger."


She added that officials did not immediately close the park but some patrons were asked to leave in order to clear the way for an ambulance.


Officials later shut down the entire facility.


Zoo officials plan to conduct an internal investigation of the incident. Campos expected outside organizations to open their own independent investigations, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and possibly the United States Department of Agriculture.


The tiger’s future was unknown but Campos said it wasn’t in any kind of jeopardy.


"The future of the animal will be the same as it’s always been," said Campos, who added the animal was "in its bedroom." or den, after Saturday’s episode.


Campos estimated anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people were visiting the zoo when the zookeeper was injured, a fairly crowded Saturday.


"That’s unfortunate because their fun day had to end," she said.


The zoo will reopen at 9 a.mtoday. Most likely, the tiger exhibit will remain off-limits to the public until further notice, according to Campos.


Patrons will be able to get refunds or free passes, she said.


Whether or not zoo visitor Cecilia Arambula planned to return was up in the air Saturday, after she and her family were ushered out of the park.


"We’re going swimming," she said.


All 8-year-old Elysandra Solis had wanted to see during her trip to the zoo were the elephants. She couldn’t say for certain if on her next visit she’d pass by the tigers.


"I feel like they’re going to bite us," she said.



Staff writer Elaine Ayo contributed to this report.




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