San Francisco Zoo tiger attacks

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Tatiana at the San Francisco Zoo, October 2007

There have been two tiger attacks at the San Francisco Zoo, both involving a female 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. In the second incident, one person was killed and two others were injured before police officers intervened, shooting and killing Tatiana.[1]

Early life of Tatiana[edit]

Tatiana with Tony, her mate

Tatiana was born at the Denver Zoo on June 27, 2003. She was brought to the San Francisco Zoo on December 16, 2005, to provide the 14-year-old Siberian tiger Tony with a mate. Tony's previous companion, Emily, had died of cancer of the spleen in late 2005. Tatiana had had no prior record of aggression towards humans.[2]

First attack[edit]

On December 22, 2006, veteran zookeeper Lori Komejan was feeding Tatiana through the enclosure's grill, when the tiger clawed and pulled Komejan's right arm through the grill and bit it, resulting in severe injuries.[2][3] The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration later found the zoo at fault due to inadequate safety precautions and inadequate staff training.[4] It was fined US$18,000 for the incident.[5][6] 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."[7] Since the attack, Komejan has undergone several surgeries and skin grafts. However, her arm still remains severely scarred and permanently impaired.[8]

Komejan sued the zoo, alleging 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. On December 12, 2008, Komejan, 48 at the time, settled her lawsuit with the city and the zoo shortly before it was due to go to trial in January 2009.[8] 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.[8] Because the settlement was confidential, the amount is not on the public record. The money was paid by insurance company funds rather than directly by the city. [5]

Second attack[edit]


On December 25, 2007, Tatiana escaped from her open-air enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and attacked three visitors shortly after closing time.[9][10] After escaping from the tiger grotto, the tiger killed one patron, Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr., who was 17 years old at the time of his death, and injured two brothers, Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal, who was 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23.

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[11] 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.[13]

When four police officers and a zoo shooting team member[12] 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 containing their fire without risk to human life. After distraction, the tiger turned towards the officers and was shot and killed.[1]

After the shooting, Tatiana's head, paws, and tail were removed by the San Francisco Police Department's forensic investigation unit.[13] Her gastric contents were also taken.[14] They were taken in seven packages to the Medical Examiner's office for necropsy and tooth impressions.[13] The M.E.'s office reported that one of the police officers had fired through Tatiana's forehead.[13] An examination of Tatiana's stomach contents revealed only the remnants of small animals, and no human tissue.[14]

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.[7][15]

The attack was the first visitor fatality due to an animal escape at a member zoo in the history of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to the association.[16]

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.[11][17]


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.[18] Taunting a zoo animal is a misdemeanor in San Francisco.[19]

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."[1] 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.[1] Paul) Dhaliwal later said that the three had yelled and waved at the tiger.[20][21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

It has been suggested that the brothers were drunk at the time of the attack[24] as according to police records, Sousa's blood alcohol level was 0.02,[25] 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." They were reportedly "hostile" to the police following the attack.[15]

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.[15][26]

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.[27][28][29]

On January 15, 2008, the transcripts and the recordings of the 911 calls were released.[30][31]


In 1996, a zoo visitor had 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.[32][additional citation needed][33]

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.[32]

It was not immediately apparent how Tatiana had escaped, but police said that Tatiana may have "leaped" or "climbed" the walls of her enclosure.[34] 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"[1] but did not immediately provide public substantiation for this hypothesis.[27]

The updated tiger enclosures

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".[35]

The zoo also installed portable loudspeakers that remind visitors to leave promptly at the 5 p.m. closing time and "Protect the Animals" signs that 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.[19]

Second set of lawsuits[edit]

Dhaliwal's lawsuit[edit]

On January 1, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers hired lawyer Mark Geragos and planned to sue San Francisco Zoo for their "utter disregard for safety."[36] On March 27, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers filed claims with the city of San Francisco seeking compensation for their injuries and emotional harm.[37] In mid-2008, the city rejected the first claims filed earlier that year by both the Sousa family and the Dhaliwal brothers.[38] 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.[39] 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.[38] 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.[38] Despite the eyewitness accounts, Geragos denied that the brothers teased the animals. 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.[18] The suit was settled in May 2009 for terms including a payment of $900,000 to the brothers by the zoo.[40]

Sousa's lawsuit[edit]

On December 23, 2008, the parents 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, culpable and reckless conduct and maintaining a public nuisance.[38] The suit was settled in February 2009; terms of the settlement were not disclosed.[40]

Subsequent events[edit]

Tatiana memorial[edit]

A year after Tatiana died, she 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.[41] 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."[41] The work, in the style of Spanish 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.[41]

Other events[edit]

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.[42] 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.[42]

Amritpal Dhaliwal died in July 2012 at the age of 24. As of December 2012, no statement or cause of death has been issued by the Dhaliwal family.[43]


  1. ^ a b c d e Fagan, Kevin; Van Derbeken, Jaxon; Rubenstein, Steve; Vega, Cecilia M.; et al. (2007-12-27). "Trail of blood apparently led escaped tiger to victims". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  2. ^ a b "Zoo keeper hurt in tiger attack". Michael Taylor and Patricia Yollin. San Francisco Chronicle. December 23, 2006. Retrieved December 26, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Horrified zoogoer recalls tiger attack". Patricia Yollin. San Francisco Chronicle. January 1, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2007. 
  4. ^ "Police: San Francisco Tiger Attack May Have Been Provoked". Associated Press. Fox News. December 26, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2007. 
  5. ^ a b SF zookeeper mauled by tiger settles lawsuit, San Diego Union-Tribune, January 16, 2009.
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  7. ^ a b Elsworth, Catherine (2007-12-27). "Victim may have helped zoo tiger escape". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
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  9. ^ ABC News: Tiger Attack Sparks Crime Scene Photos
  10. ^ Fagan, Kevin; VanDerbeken, Jaxon; Koopman, John; Lagos, Marisa (December 27, 2007). "Video of Authorities in the San Francisco Zoo". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 27, 2007. 
  11. ^ a b c Van Derbeken, Jaxon; Fagan, Kevin (2007-12-29). "Police, fire logs in S.F. tiger mauling show scene of chaos, delay". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  12. ^ a b Podell, Nick (January 3, 2008). "S.F. Zoo investigating tiger attack, but first it is reopening". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 3, 2008. 
  13. ^ a b c d Read Tiger Attack Autopsy, June 2, 2008. KGO-TV San Francisco, ABC News.
  14. ^ a b Case #2007-1397, Medical Examiner's Register, PDF file.
  15. ^ a b c Solis, Suzanne (2007-12-30). "Father of boy killed by tiger says he'd like to hear from survivors". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  16. ^ "California teen named as victim of tiger mauling". CNN. 2007-12-26. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  17. ^ "Newlyweds party at San Francisco Zoo". USA Today. January 1, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b Collins, Terry. "SF wants $75,000 back from tiger attack survivor." AP Online. Press Association, Inc. 2009. HighBeam Research. 8 Dec. 2013 [1].
  19. ^ a b Yollin, Patricia, et al. S.F. Zoo visitor saw 2 victims of tiger attack teasing lions, January 3, 2008. San Francisco Chronicle, print edition; also online at
  20. ^ Associated Press (2008-01-17). "Police: Tiger attack victim was drinking, admitted taunting". CNN. Archived from the original on 2008-01-19. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  21. ^ Jaxon Van Derbeken (2008-01-17). "Mauling survivor said he yelled at tiger". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  22. ^ Berg, Emmett; Olshan, Jeremy (2008-01-01). "tall_order_for_deadly_barrier". The New York Post. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
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  24. ^ "Experts: Taunts Not Only Factor In SF Tiger Attack". CBS 5. January 18, 2008. 
  25. ^ Van Derbeken, Jaxon. Police: Zoo survivor told of standing on railing and yelling at tiger, Friday, January 18, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle
  26. ^ Tiger survivor told dead youth's mother "We didn't do nothing", San Francisco Chronicle
  27. ^ a b Rubenstein, Steve; Coté, John (2008-01-11). "S.F. braces for 'circus' at first public hearing on tiger mauling". SF Chronicle. 
  28. ^ "Evidence May Show Cover-Up In Tiger Attack". CBS. 2008-01-16. Archived from the original on 2008-02-20. 
  29. ^ "Why help arrived 30 minutes after Tiger attack on Indians in US?". Indy Daily. 2008-01-02. 
  30. ^ Transcript of Kulbir Dhaliwal's 911 call, San Francisco Chronicle (January 16, 2008) Retrieved on January 16, 2008.
  31. ^ Transcript of zoo's 911 calls, San Francisco Chronicle (January 16, 2008) Retrieved on January 16, 2008.
  32. ^ a b Fagan, Kevin; Vega, Cecilia M.; Coté, John; Lagos, Marisa (2007-12-27). "Tiger grotto wall shorter than thought, may have contributed to escape and fatal attack". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  33. ^ "Woman recalls tiger encounter". KGO San Francisco ABC 7. 2007-12-27. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
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  35. ^ S.F. Zoo's big cats meet people again
  36. ^ "Tiger-Attacked Brothers Hire Legal Pit Bull". ABC News. 2008-01-01. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  37. ^ Brothers who survived tiger attack at S.F. Zoo file claim against city, San Francisco Chronicle (March 28, 2008) Retrieved on March 28, 2008.
  38. ^ a b c d Woolfolk, John. San Jose family of teen killed by tiger sues San Francisco, zoo, December 23, 2008, San Jose Mercury-News.
  39. ^ "City denies liability in Christmas Day tiger attack". Associated Press. 2008-07-01. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  40. ^ a b Mark Gomez (2009-05-29). "Brothers receive $900,000 settlement for San Francisco zoo tiger attack". Mercury News. 
  41. ^ a b c Koopman, John. Sculpture of Tatiana the tiger unveiled, December 26, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle, p. B-2; also in online edition at SFGate.Com.
  42. ^ a b Lagos, Marisa. Cops who shot tiger to be recognized as heroes, January 16, 2009, "City Insider" column, San Francisco Chronicle via SF Gate.
  43. ^ Lee, Vic. San Francisco Zoo Tiger Attack: 5 Years Later, December 24, 2012, KGO San Francisco

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