Wall of Siberian tiger enclosure at San Francisco Zoo is too short

Friday, December 28, 2007

Diagram showing the enclosure (enlarge).
Image: Bawolff.

The San Francisco Zoo has admitted that the walls of the enclosure around their Siberian tiger exhibit are too short. On December 25, Tatiana, one of two Siberians at the Zoo, climbed the wall and attacked three people, killing one. Reports say that Tatiana used her front claws to grab on the observation ledge of the enclosure and pull herself up out of her habitat.

On Wednesday the Director of the Zoo, Manuel A. Mollinedo told the media that the enclosure's wall was 18 feet high, but today he came forward and admitted that the wall was only 12 feet 5 inches high. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recommends the wall be at least 16 feet high. Mollinedo also said that he believes Tatiana escaped her enclosure by jumping or climbing it.

The Zoo is accredited with the Association through 2011. According to the Association's website, for a zoo or aquarium to become accredited with the AZA, they must fill out an application and "the [AZA] Accreditation Commission [must] evaluate every zoo or aquarium to make sure it meets AZA's standards for animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health, and nutrition. We also make sure that animals are provided with enrichment, which stimulates each animal's natural behavior and provides variety in their daily routine." The commission meets twice a year to evaluate applications.

"The San Francisco Zoo is a great zoo, it's an accredited AZA member in good standing, and it has our support during this difficult time. AZA mandatory accreditation standards require that the San Francisco Zoo provide a thorough report to its independent Accreditation Commission, which will review it and determine any actions that need to be taken. We will not speculate on what action might be taken until the facts are fully reviewed," said a statement on the AZA's website posted on Wednesday.

Tatiana at the Zoo before she was killed.
Image: Matt Knoth.

"AZA-accredited zoos are safe. Until this incident, there had not been a visitor fatality resulting from an animal escape at an AZA-accredited zoo. AZA mandatory accreditation standards require safety and emergency protocols that go beyond federal, state or local requirements. Regular safety training and annual emergency drills are required by these mandatory accreditation standards," added the statement.

According to Mollinedo the Association inspected the Zoo in 2004, but never pointed out that the wall was too short. The enclosure is also surrounded by a dry moat that is 12 feet deep at the corners and 13 feet deep at the center.

Police are still investigating the incident and deny reports that the injured brothers Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19 along with their friend Carlos Sousa Jr., who was killed, were taunting Tatiana by dangling a leg into her enclosure. Police do say that a footprint was found at the scene, but no further details are known. The brothers both received severe upper body and arm lacerations, but are expected to be released from the hospital on Saturday.

"We have no information at this point that they did or did not go over the railing," said Chief of the San Francisco Police Department, Heather Fong.

On Wednesday, Fong stated that "[The incident is being treated as a crime] because we're not certain why the incident occurred - as result of human action or whether this was an incident where the animal was able to get out of the grotto."

The Zoo remains closed for business and it is not known when it will reopen.

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