See post of 1/18/2008 for updated info.
By now you've heard of the Christmas Day incident at the San Francisco Zoo, in which one visitor was killed and two others severely injured by a 300 lb. Siberian tiger that escaped from its enclosure - The Lion House. The tiger, Tatiana, was shot dead by police on the scene. The 125-acre zoo closes at 6 p.m., though the public is not allowed entrance after 5 p.m.; this attack occurred just after 5:00 p.m. as visitors were still wandering and exiting the premises.
Note: It has not yet been determined if Tatiana escaped due to a specific and timely human error, though it has been determined that the animal did not escape through a door or unlocked cage. Other SF Zoo tigers did not leave their habitat. Therefore The Lion House temporarily has been labeled a crime scene.
Click on this link for an excellent story at The Washington Post, which reports about this particular SF Zoo incident, relays an interview with celebrity wildlife expert and former Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna, and details specifics about the Smithsonian's National Zoo in D.C. and their security measures for both animals and zoo visitors. To read an updated article at CNN, click on this link.
It should be noted that this same tiger, Tatiana, was involved in an "attack" on a zoo keeper last year during a public feeding. That incident was found to have been the fault of the SF Zoo: the tiger was able to reach through the bars and was being hand-fed, as well as a lack of special training for appropriate zoo employees. Since tigers are wild animals - not domestic - it was simply behaving normally by being both protective and possessive of its food. Mesh wiring has since been added to the lower bars as has a feed chute for the lions and tigers, and employees have received proper training.
A few things to keep in mind about tigers: Siberian tigers, such as Tatiana, are an endangered species; head and body length averages 7 feet (not including the tail!), though females are smaller. Wild tigers have been known to bound 30+ feet and jump over 15 feet high, and are considered among the best feline swimmers.
The Lion House habitat at the SF Zoo has a 20-foot moat and an 18-ft. exterior wall, according to a press conference statement today by the Zoo's director.
It seems to detroit dog very possible that Tatiana could very well have been an athletically gifted - or at least well conditioned - cat. Most importantly, the SF Zoo should take a quick reality check and re-examine its facilities, and not underestimate the physical and intellectual capacities of its animals.
This SF Zoo incident highlights a good number of issues regarding animal welfare and zoo environments, and of course the consequential effects on human life. These issues will be addressed in a separate post.
In the meantime, if you'd like to read a listing of other zoo/sanctuary animal encounters with visiting humans, click on this link at CNN for the story Other zoo animals have attacked, escaped in recent years.
To learn more about tigers of all types, click on this Wikipedia link.
Follow up, 12/27/2007: It is suspected that the tiger's victims might have taunted her, motivating her to escape The Lion House and attack. However, it seems that if there was indeed taunting, it was extreme; reports are that a shoe and blood were found in the enclosure and a human footprint found on the enclosure's fence. Did one of the victim's climb the interior fence to taunt the animal? If in fact the tigers were taunted, it just points to the continuing and incredulous stupidity of people - to say nothing of their cruelty - in dealing with wild animals (captive or not).
To taunt a wild animal is to dare it to kill you; you lose the bet.
Rumors are that the family of the deceased victim will sue; if so, then it disgusts me that profits can be made as a consequence of one's ugly and uncalled for behavior, which gets both human and animal life killed.
To read a follow up article at CNN, click on this link.