San Francisco Zoo tiger attacks

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Tatiana at the San Francisco Zoo, October 2007

Two tiger attacks occurred at the San Francisco Zoo, in 2006 and 2007, 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]

Events preceding the attacks[edit]

Tatiana with Tony, her mate

A zoo visitor offered news media an account relevant to the attacks, dating to December 1996, before the arrival of Tatiana, the tiger in question in the attacks, but in a time frame relevant to the construction of the tiger enclosure that would feature in the second of the attacks. In the account, a report was made to a zoo employee of an incident of a tiger leaping "across his pen and cross the moat and [then attempting to] climb up," the visitor stating that the tiger had come within 5-6 feet of her child, before sliding down again. She further stated that a zoo employee dismissed the incident as a regular occurrence, and that she had phoned the zoo after the December 2007 occurrence to relate this earlier story.[2]

The animal in question in the attacks that follow, Tatiana, was born at the Denver Zoo on June 27, 2003, and was brought to the San Francisco Zoo on December 16, 2005, to provide the 14-year-old Siberian tiger, Tony, with a mate.[3] Tony's previous companion, Emily, had died of cancer of the spleen in late 2005; Tatiana had no prior record of aggression towards humans.[3]

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.[3][4] The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration later found the zoo at fault due to inadequate safety precautions and inadequate staff training.[5] It was fined US$18,000 for the incident.[6][7] 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."[8] Since the attack, Komejan has undergone several surgeries and skin grafts. However, her arm still remains severely scarred and permanently impaired.[9]

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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[6]

Second attack[edit]

On Christmas Day, 2007, Tatiana escaped from her open-air enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and attacked three visitors shortly after closing time.[10][11] After escaping from the tiger grotto, the tiger killed one patron, Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr., 17, and injured two brothers, Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal, 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[12] 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.[14]

When four police officers and a zoo shooting team member[13] 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.[14] Her gastric contents were also taken.[15] They were taken in seven packages to the Medical Examiner's office for necropsy and tooth impressions.[14] The M.E.'s office reported that one of the police officers had fired through Tatiana's forehead.[14] An examination of Tatiana's stomach contents revealed only the remnants of small animals, and no human tissue.[15]

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.[8][16]

The attack was the first visitor fatality due to an animal escape at a member zoo since the 1924 founding of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to the association.[17]

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.[12][18]


It was not immediately apparent how Tatiana had escaped, but police said that Tatiana may have "leaped" or "climbed" the walls of her enclosure.[19] Police undertook an 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][20][21]

Two days after the attack, on December 27, 2007, the zoo reported that while the moat, at 33 feet wide, was sufficient by national standards, its claim that the grotto's moat wall was 18 feet (5.5 m) tall was incorrect; officials measured at 12.5 feet (3.8 m) tall, substantially lower than their initial report, and substantially lower than the AZA recommendation for such enclosures, 16.5 feet (5.0 m).[22] Tatiana's rear paws were found to carry a significant amount of concrete in them, suggesting that she had pushed against the moat wall during her escape.[22]

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.[23][24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

In early 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.[27] Taunting a zoo animal is a misdemeanor in San Francisco.[28][29]

Toxicology reports disclosed in mid-January indicated a blood alcohol level of 0.16 for 19 year old Amritpal Dhaliwal, twice the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, and that alcohol was also present but under legal limits for Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and for Carlos Sousa, 17, and that evidence of cannabis use was present for all three.[30][29] Reporters also noted that "[p]olice 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."[31]

As well, the San Francisco Chronicle described the attitude of the Dhaliwals as "hostile" to the police following the attack,[16] reporting that they initially refused to identify themselves or Carlos Sousa to the police, refused to give interviews to the police until two days after the attack, and would not speak publicly about the details of what happened to them.[16][32] The negative publicity pertaining to the young men, including speculation that they had taunted the tiger, a contention their lawyer refuted,[21][33] was labeled by an editorial at as an attempt to blame the victims of the attack, and to shield the zoo from responsibility.[34]

On January 15, 2008, the transcripts and the recordings of the 911 calls were released.[35][36]


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".[37]

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.[28]


Dhaliwal brothers[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."[38] On March 27, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers filed claims with the city of San Francisco seeking compensation for their injuries and emotional harm.[39] In mid-2008, the city rejected the first claims filed earlier that year by both the Sousa family and the Dhaliwal brothers.[40] 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.[41] 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.[40] 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.[40] 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.[27] The suit was settled in May 2009 for terms under which San Francisco Zoo paid $900,000 to the brothers.[42]

Parents of Sousa[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.[40] The suit was settled in February 2009; terms of the settlement were not disclosed.[42]

Subsequent events[edit]

Officers honored[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.[43] 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.[43]

Memorial to Tatiana[edit]

A year after the tiger who had killed the zoo visitor died, she was commemorated on Telegraph Hill by a sculptor from San Francisco's Sunset District, Jon Engdahl. The life-size representation of the reclining tiger, Tatiana, was unveiled on December 25, 2008, the anniversary of Tatiana's fatal attack, and her shooting by San Francisco police.[44] 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."[44] 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 the street or Steps.[44]


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