Zoo workers did not announce tiger escape, failed to follow rules
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Remain calm. Ensure the safety of zoo visitors. Recapture the animal. Ensure the safety of the animal.
That’s how to handle an escaped tiger, according to the official emergency plan of the San Francisco Zoo.
Little of that happened, however, in the frantic moments on Christmas when an escaped Siberian tiger mauled one visitor to death and injured two others before it was shot and killed by police.
And some patrons inside the zoo at the time said they were completely unaware of the escaped tiger while it was roaming the grounds – an apparent violation of the zoo’s emergency plan.
The tiger killed Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, of San Jose and injured his friends, brothers Amritpal “Paul” Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23. The brothers are expected to be released from the hospital Saturday. The 100-acre zoo is expected to reopen Thursday.
The 18-page “Emergency Procedures” manual, written in 2006 and given to all employees, spells out what zookeepers, guards and even the receptionist in the main office are supposed to do if a “Siberian tiger is out of its enclosure” or any other dangerous animal escapes.
Zookeepers who observe the escape of a dangerous animal are supposed to call a “Code One” to the zoo security office. A Code One means that a “life-threatening or dangerous animal” has gotten loose and that armed assistance is required. Officials said that happened after the Tuesday attack.
The zoo has a “shooting team” that is supposed to respond promptly to Code One emergencies. It never did. On Christmas, the shooting was done not by zoo personnel but by four police officers.
Guards should “direct visitors away from the (animal) and secure people inside of buildings if appropriate,” according to the plan.
But zoo visitor Rajesh Bhatia of San Mateo, who was visiting the zoo with his wife, two children and his wife’s parents, said that never happened, either.
He and his family visited the large cat exhibit at 4:45 p.m., about 20 minutes before the tiger got loose, he said. Then they went to get something to eat. While the tiger was escaping and then mauling a visitor at the Terrace Cafe on the east side of the zoo, Bhatia and his family were dining in the Leaping Lemur cafe on the zoo’s west side.
For nearly half an hour, there were no announcements, warnings or alarms, he said.
Zoo officials on Friday refused to answer any questions, and The Chronicle could not find out if the zoo has a public announcement system.
At 5:35 p.m., the family was returning to their car in the parking lot. Only then, Bhatia said, did a zoo guard warn them about a “loose animal.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t let us know sooner,” he said. “It’s shocking. Thank God my family is alive.”
Bhatia said he is never returning to the zoo.
Another visitor, a 42-year-old man from Mountain View who was visiting with his wife and two young children, said he was still on zoo grounds for 20 minutes after the escape and was also not warned about a loose animal.
“If I had, I would have run, I can tell you that,” said the man, who preferred not to be identified by name.
Zoo officials refused to answer questions about the incident on Friday.
According to the plan, the veterinary staff is supposed to “gather chemical immobilization equipment in preparation for anesthetizing the animal.” Dispatch records also suggest that emergency responders couldn’t immediately find a zoo official with a tranquilizer gun.
The main office receptionist is supposed to “assume the role of liaison to outside emergency response systems,” assuming he or she has remained calm enough to do so.
Meanwhile, the plan instructs zoo custodians, handymen and popcorn vendors to “remain inside (and) close the door” which, on Tuesday evening, may have been the most followed instruction of all.
For The Tiger
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