New report: Zoo unprepared day of tiger attack

Image: San Francisco Zoo re-opens after tiger attack on Christmas
Guests at the San Francisco Zoo get a close look at a memorial for Tatiana, the Siberian tiger that was killed by police after it escaped from its enclosure and killed a 17-year-old boy in December.John G. Mabanglo / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

San Francisco Zoo workers should have believed two brothers who said a tiger was loose and had mauled their friend, but overall reacted well to the fatal Christmas Day attacks, according to a new report.

Inspectors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the organization that accredits the nation's zoos, called the actions of the zoo staff following the first reports of the tiger's escape on Christmas Day "impressive."

But the report also criticizes the zoo's security supervisor for doubting the brothers, including one who was bleeding from the head, that a big cat had escaped. Association inspectors also found that because of the holiday, most of the zoo's workers had been sent home early, leaving too few staffers.

The report, which the zoo released in excerpts Tuesday, provided its most detailed account of the fatal mauling.

Association inspectors criticized the zoo's security supervisor for doubting two brothers, Kulbir and Paul Dhaliwal of San Jose, who said a tiger had escaped from its enclosure and attacked them and their friend.

Responding to calls that the men were at a zoo cafe seeking medical attention, the supervisor arrived to find that brothers "behaving erratically, possibly intoxicated," according to the inspection report's timeline of the incident.

'Belligerent behavior'
The supervisor assumed there had been a fight and did not believe a tiger was free "because of the erratic and belligerent behavior of the two guests," the report said.

The 250-pound Siberian tiger, named Tatiana, already had killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and was roaming the zoo grounds. Minutes later, it attacked the brothers, who were kept outside the cafe by a manager who lacked a zoo radio and didn't know the tiger had escaped, the report said.

AZA inspectors also found that the one zookeeper who was trained as a shooter in animal escapes did not have keys to remove a shotgun from storage. He eventually retrieved the weapon with help from a veterinarian who had left for the day and returned because she had forgotten to complete a report.

The tiger was fatally shot by police about 20 minutes after the brothers first reported they had been attacked, according to police and zoo timelines.

The attacks came just over a year after the tiger devoured the arm of a zookeeper during a feeding.

"The zoo is too often chasing problems rather than proactively addressing known concerns," the report said. "This will require a shift in culture and the supervisory and maintenance staff to make it happen."

The full document remains confidential between the organization and the zoo, but association spokesman Steve Feldman said the excerpts released by the zoo accurately reflected the full report.

"They've accurately summarized the findings from those documents," Feldman said. "The fact that we've maintained the zoo's accreditation also speaks for itself."