San Francisco Zoo tiger attacks
There have been two tiger attacks at the San Francisco Zoo, both involving a 4-year-old Siberian tiger named Tatiana (June 27, 2003 — December 25, 2007). In the first incident, a zookeeper was bitten on the arm during a public feeding. During the second incident two people were injured and one killed, before the tiger was fatally shot by police officers.
Tatiana was born in Denver on June 27, 2003. She was brought to the San Francisco Zoo on December 16, 2005 to provide a 14-year-old Siberian tiger, Tony, with a mate. Tony's prior companion, Emily, had died of cancer of the spleen in late 2005. Tatiana had no record of aggression towards humans.
During a public feeding on December 22, 2006, Tatiana clawed and bit veteran zookeeper Lori Komejan's arm which was pulled between the cage bars. Komejan's right arm was severely injured as a result. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration later found the zoo at fault due to inadequate safety precautions and inadequate staff training. The San Francisco Zoo was fined US$18,000 for the incident. The Zoo decided not to euthanize Tatiana after the attack on Komejan; then-director Manuel Mollinedo said "the tiger was acting as a normal tiger does."
On December 25, 2007, Tatiana escaped from her open-air enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and attacked three visitors shortly after closing time. After escaping from the tiger grotto, Tatiana killed one patron, Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr., and injured two brothers, Amritpal "Paul" and Kulbir Dhaliwal. The brothers fled to the zoo cafe approximately 300 yards (270 m) away and, according to initial reports, left a trail of blood that the tiger followed. Paul Dhaliwal began screaming outside the locked Terrace Cafe, prompting an employee to call 9-1-1 at 5:07 pm.
Police response was initially delayed, in part because cafe personnel who called the police voiced suspicions that perhaps the allegations of an animal attack were being made by a mentally unstable person. When the police and fire crews arrived at the zoo, they were further delayed by zoo security guards who were enforcing a lockdown so that the tiger would not escape the zoo grounds.
Carlos Sousa was found near the tiger grotto by a zoo employee who remained with him until rescue crews arrived. The scene was chaotic, and 13 minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call, police officers and fire department paramedics reached Carlos Sousa's body and found his throat slashed or punctured. His autopsy later revealed that he had blunt force injuries of the head and neck, many punctures and scratches to his head, neck and chest, skull and spinal fractures, and a cut to his jugular vein.
When four police officers and a zoo shooting team member reached the tiger, they found her with one of the brothers, Kulbir Dhaliwal. They did not shoot Tatiana immediately, according to the SF police chief, because they could not be assured of "contain[ing] their fire" without risk to human life. After distraction, the tiger turned towards the officers and was shot and killed. After the shooting, Tatiana's head, paws, and tail were removed by the San Francisco Police Department's forensic investigation unit. Her gastric contents were also taken. They were taken in seven packages to the Medical Examiner's office for necropsy and tooth impressions. The M.E.'s office reported that one of the police officers had fired through Tatiana's forehead. An examination of Tatiana's stomach contents revealed only the remnants of small animals, and no human tissue.
The Dhaliwal brothers received deep bites and claw wounds on their heads, necks, arms, and hands. Their injuries were not life-threatening, and they were released from the hospital on December 29, 2007.
The zoo remained closed until January 3, 2008, though a long-scheduled wedding reception was allowed to proceed on December 31, 2007, at a hall near the entrance gate. On January 15, 2008, the transcripts and the recordings of the 911 calls were released.
In the days immediately following the attack, the director of the zoo stated that Tatiana was probably provoked. He said, "Somebody created a situation that really agitated her and gave her some sort of a method to break out. There is no possible way the cat could have made it out of there in a single leap. I would surmise that there was help. A couple of feet dangling over the edge could possibly have done it." Sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that pine cones and sticks that might have been thrown at Tatiana had been found and which could not have landed in the vicinity naturally. Amritpal (Paul) Dhaliwal, 19, would later admit to the deceased victim's father that the three had yelled and waved at the tiger.
According to early news sources, the Dhaliwal brothers had slingshots on them at the time of the attack. In later reports, the police denied that slingshots were found in the victims' car or at the zoo.
Zoo visitor Jennifer Miller and her family allegedly saw the group of men, including an unidentified fourth person, taunting lions less than an hour before the tiger attack. She later identified Carlos Sousa as being part of the group but said Sousa did not join in the taunting. Despite these eyewitness accounts, the Dhaliwal brothers' lawyer, Mark Geragos, denied that the brothers teased the animals. It has been suggested that the brothers were drunk at the time of the attack.
The Dhaliwal brothers were reportedly "hostile" to the police following the attack. They initially refused to identify themselves or Carlos Sousa to the police and refused to give interviews to the police until two days after the attack. Initially, the brothers would not speak publicly about the details of what happened to them. On January 1, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers hired lawyer Mark Geragos and planned to sue San Francisco Zoo for their "utter disregard for safety." The negative publicity pertaining to the young men, including speculation that they had taunted or tormented Tatiana, was labeled by some critics as an attempt to blame the victims of the attack and shield the zoo from responsibility.
According to police records, Sousa's blood alcohol level was 0.02, and all three involved had cannabis in their system. "Police found a small amount of marijuana in Kulbir Dhaliwal's 2002 BMW, which the victims drove to the zoo, as well as a partially filled bottle of vodka, according to court documents." Also, "police found a partial shoe print that matched Paul Dhaliwal's on top of the railing."
Wall height and history
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Two days after the attack, on December 27, 2007, the zoo retracted its prior claim that the grotto's moat wall was 18 feet (5.5 m) tall, after officials measured it and found it was actually 12.5 feet (3.8 m) tall. The AZA recommendation for big cat enclosures is a moat wall of 16.5 feet (5.0 m). Tatiana's paws were also found to carry concrete chips, suggesting that she climbed out of the moat using her claws on the wall.
A 1996 zoo visitor reported an incident in which a tiger leapt and got a paw on top of the wall but slipped down. She said that a zoo employee dismissed the incident as a regular occurrence and that her letter to the zoo's director went unanswered.
It was not immediately apparent how Tatiana had escaped, but police said that Tatiana may have "leaped" or "climbed" the walls of her enclosure. Police undertook a criminal investigation to determine whether one of the victims "climbed over a waist-high fence and then dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of a moat that kept the big cat away from the public" but did not immediately provide public substantiation for this hypothesis.
On February 16, 2008, the zoo re-opened the exterior tiger exhibit which was extensively renovated to meet the extension of the concrete moat wall up to the minimum height of 16 feet 4 inches from the bottom of the moat, installation of glass fencing on the top of the wall to extend the height to 19 feet, and installation of electrified "hotwire."
The zoo also installed portable loudspeakers which remind visitors to leave promptly at the 5 p.m. closing time and "Protect the Animals" signs which read:
Help make the zoo a safe environment. The magnificent animals in the zoo are wild and possess all their natural instincts. You are a guest in their home. Please remember they are sensitive and have feelings. PLEASE don't tap on glass, throw anything into exhibits, make excessive noise, tease or call out to them.
On December 12, 2008, the zookeeper injured in December 2006, Lori Komejan, settled her lawsuit with the city and the zoo shortly before it was due to go trial in January, 2009. Tatiana's attack on Komejan's arm left her permanently impaired and severely scarred. Komejan, 48 at the time of the settlement, endured multiple surgeries and skin grafts after the December 2006 attack, but was unable to attain full function in her right arm. Her suit alleged that an unsafe condition existed due to the failure to install effective safeguards for the tiger cage, which was remodeled and re-opened in September 2007. The terms of the settlement were not released to the public, but Komejan's attorney, Michael Mandel, said "The case was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides." The city did not comment. Because the settlement was paid by insurance company funds rather than directly by the city, the amount is not public record. In addition, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the zoo $18,000 for the incident.
In January 2008, the lead investigator for the city said that the men may have harassed Tatiana, but no charges were filed against them for such behavior. Taunting a zoo animal is a misdemeanor in San Francisco.
On March 27, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers filed claims with the city of San Francisco seeking compensation for their injuries and emotional harm.
In mid-2008, the city rejected the first claims filed earlier that year by both the Sousa family and the Dhaliwal brothers. On June 30, 2008, the City of San Francisco denied responsibility for the tiger attacks, referring the claim of Sousa's parents to the San Francisco Zoological Society. The terms of the zoo's lease with the city require the Zoological Society to indemnify the city from any claims arising from zoo operations.
In November 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers followed up their initial filing with a new suit in federal court which accused city and zoo officials of defamation for suggesting the young men had provoked the tiger, in addition to a claim of negligence for the incident itself.
In the last week of December 2008, the city filed a lien in the federal lawsuit brought by the Dhaliwals against the zoo. The lien is intended to recover over $75,000 for medical care spent on Kulbir Dhaliwal in city facilities. The city did not comment on why no similar lien was filed to recover the expenses of Amritpal Dhaliwal's care.
On December 23, 2008, the father and mother of Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr filed suit against the city and the zoo. Marilza and Carlos Sousa claimed wrongful death of their son, a minor, and asserted in their filing that the zoo ignored industry standards and warnings from its own staff that the tiger enclosure was insufficient to contain Tatiana. Their attorney, Michael Cardoza said the suit sought unspecified damages for wrongful death, negligence, reckless conduct and maintaining a public nuisance. The suit was settled in February 2009; terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The suit filed by the Dhaliwals was settled in May 2009 for terms including a payment of $900,000 to the brothers by the zoo.
A year after she died, Tatiana was memorialized on Telegraph Hill by a sculptor from San Francisco's Sunset District, Jon Engdahl. The life-size representation of the reclining tiger was unveiled on December 25, 2008, the anniversary of her fatal shooting by San Francisco Police. Composed of concrete, ceramic tile and wire, the statue was installed in an area of dense foliage near the Greenwich Steps on the east side of Coit Tower. "This was a labor of love," Engdahl told the press. "I identified with this beautiful animal. I felt sorry for the sordid and needless way she died." The work, in the style of Catalan artist Antoni Gaudí, represents Tatiana as she looked when she arrived at the San Francisco Zoo, at less than two years old. The sculpture, placed without city permission, is not easily seen from either the street or the Steps.
On February 4, 2009, the four officers on the police shooting team, Scott Biggs, Yukio Oshita, Kevin O'Leary and Daniel Kroos, were honored for bravery by the San Francisco Police Commission. The four men were assigned to the Taraval Station at the time of the second attack. By the time of the 2009 ceremony, Biggs and Oshita remained at Taraval as plainclothes officers; O'Leary remained at Taraval walking a beat; and Kroos was assigned to Mission Station.
Paul Dhaliwal died in July 2012 at the age of 24. As of Spring 2013, no statement or cause of death has been issued by the Dhaliwal family.
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