USDA views scene of Tex. zoo tiger attack

Web Posted: 07/16/2007 11:04 PM CDT

Scott Huddleston

Investigators have examined the site of Saturday’s accident involving a tiger at the San Antonio Zoo, but haven’t revealed how it might have happened.

Dawn Campos, zoo spokeswoman, said an investigation of the tiger exhibit Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “went well” and may help pinpoint the cause of the accident.

“They might be pretty close,” Campos said Monday. “We have a pretty good idea, but we just aren’t able to say without knowing for sure.”

Campos said zoo officials and employees have visited Jeff Tierney, 28, a popular zoo worker, at the hospital, but haven’t questioned him.

“We are being very respectful of his family and his time,” she said. “He’s talking a lot and looking good. He’s very lucky, and we’re very grateful.”

The zoo’s executive director, Steve McCusker, was on an educational tour of Costa Rica and couldn’t be reached when the accident occurred, Campos said. Department heads decided to close the zoo Saturday, but reopened Sunday, while keeping the tiger exhibit closed until the USDA could investigate.

The zoo has not let the media photograph the nearly 6-year-old male tiger, Berani, not wanting the animal to be perceived as a behavioral misfit, Campos said. Sumatran tigers are the smallest of tiger species, weighing up to 300 pounds, but are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Their nature, as carnivores, is to hunt animals ranging from 60 to 2,000 pounds.

Tierney was in an outdoor enclosure Saturday when the tiger got out of its indoor den. It got the keeper in its grasp and dragged him, with several visitors watching, before Tierney broke free. While the public was never at risk, since railings and a moat separated visitors from the tigers, zookeepers never are supposed to be near tigers, elephants or other dangerous animals without a barrier protecting them, Campos said.

“One misperception the public has is that our zookeepers sometimes interact with the tigers. That’s not the case,” she said. “It should never have happened.”

The nonprofit San Antonio Zoological Society owns and operates the zoo on city-owned land, with the city subsidizing some of the zoo’s operating costs — typically up to 8 percent. The society’s board, which meets next week, has been kept up to date on the accident, Campos said. USDA officials could not be reached for comment Monday.


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