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Read Eyewitness Accounts, Statements From the SF Tiger Attack

| February 14, 2011
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A tiger sits in a renovated big cat grotto at the SF Zoo, 2008. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty)

On Saturday AP reported that it had obtained documents related to the 2007 mauling death of Carlos Sousa Jr. by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. The tiger had scaled the wall in which she was enclosed, killing Sousa and injuring his two companions, Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal. The Dhaliwals settled a lawsuit against the zoo in 2009 for $900,000.

The documents, which AP obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, include statements from police responding to the attack, as well as from others who witnessed the event. Here’s just part of one hair-raising account by an officer who shot and killed the tiger:

…The tiger then stopped attacking the man and began trotting quickly towards us, almost at a running pace. I began to become extremely fearful for the safety of Officer Biggs, myself, and the zoo employee inside our vehicle. As the tiger was approaching us, he looked in my direction and began walking directly towards me. I was extremely fearful for my safety as the tiger’s speed began to increase in my direction. At this time I fired my Department issued firearm in an attempt to save my life and the lives of Officer Biggs and the zoo employee. I fired my firearm an unknown number of times with little effect on the tiger. The tiger was approximately two and a half feet from me when I jumped back into our vehicle. I then realized that my window was completely open and the tiger was directly next to my door. Still fearing for my life, I fired my firearm again. The tiger fell to the ground and I could see that the tiger was attempting to get back up. I then heard a gunshot and saw that the tiger was no longer moving. I exited the vehicle and determined that the tiger was dead.

Some of the documents may also help buttress the zoo’s claim that the tiger, Tatiana, was provoked by the Dhaliwals. Here’s what an expert with the Dept of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wrote in a report about the incident, as reported by AP:

“It appears the tiger was able to jump from the bottom of the dry moat to the top of the wall, and gain enough purchase over the top to pull herself out over the moat wall,” wrote Laurie Gage, a tiger expert who investigated the scene for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, which oversees the nation’s zoos.

“With my knowledge of tiger behavior I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked,” Gage wrote in the Dec. 27, 2007 draft of her report.

That statement was stricken from the final version of the report because it was “irrelevant from an Animal Welfare Act enforcement standpoint,” said David Sacks, a spokesman for APHIS. Whether or not the tiger was provoked has long been a point of contention.

After sitting with its prey for a short time, Gage wrote that Tatiana likely followed the Dhaliwals’ blood trail for about 300 yards to where it resumed attacks. Photographs show blood-smeared asphalt where the tiger apparently dragged Sousa’s body.

“After a kill, I find it interesting the tiger would leave a kill to go after something else unless there were a compelling reason,” Gage wrote. “The tiger passed exhibits with warthogs . which it ignored as it followed (the blood trail?) of the two brothers to the Terrace Cafe outside the dining area.”

Here are some of the documents, which the San Jose Mercury News posted on its site. Pages 9-21 are photos from the zoo, including the wall-enclosed moat where the tiger was kept.

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Category: Animals and Wildlife, Legal

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