Tiger Escapes SF Zoo, Kills One

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 25th, 2007


Tatiana, San Francisco Zoo’s Siberian tiger, attacked three men, killing one.

Infrequently, discussions occur here about escaped animals, mostly as alleged explanations for cryptid animals.

When a situation such as the following does occur, the fact is that the animal is quickly caught, returned to captivity, or killed.

This is a sudden, sad, and startling story for Christmas Day.

San Francisco, California – Police say a tiger escaped from its cage at the San Francisco Zoo today, killing one visitor and injuring two others.

Several police officers shot the tiger to death when it started moving toward a group of them.

It was not immediately clear how the tiger escaped.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the attack took place in a cafe at the east end of the zoo shortly after closing time. The tiger cages are near the center of the zoo.

Police say officials were initially worried that four tigers had escaped. But only one got out of its pen.

A year ago, one of the zoo’s tigers mauled a zookeeper during a regular public feeding. The 350-pound animal reached through the cage’s iron bars and badly lacerated her arm.“Tiger escapes cage at San Francisco Zoo, killing 1 and injuring 2,” Associated Press – December 25, 2007 10:53 PM ET.

Update December 26, 2007:

Early rumors that four tigers had escaped Christmas night and were terrorizing the zoo proved to be false.

There are five tigers at the zoo – three Sumatrans and two Siberians. Officials initially worried that four tigers had escaped, but soon learned only one had escaped its pen.

It was determined that the killer tiger was the same one that a year ago had mauled a keeper.

On December 22, 2006, Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, reached through her cage’s iron bars and attacked a keeper with her claws and teeth, causing deep lacerations to the worker’s arms. The zoo’s Lion House was temporarily closed during an investigation.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health blamed the zoo for the assault and imposed a $18,000 penalty. A medical claim filed against the city by the keeper was denied.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

19 Responses to “Tiger Escapes SF Zoo, Kills One”

  1. captiannemo responds:

    I just saw this on the news, they said it was the same tiger that was reaching through the bars trying to grab people.

    A sad sad ending, my prayers go out to the families.

  2. Woodford responds:

    Odd timing – a tiger killed a guy at a zoo in India just last week as well. In that case the tiger hadn’t escaped, it tore the guy’s arm off when he reached into the enclosure to try and get a better photograph. A foolish and final mistake.

  3. Bob Michaels responds:

    Don’t keep tigers behind bars.

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    How this tiger escaped from its grotto (where it was not behind bars, per se) is still unknown.

  5. olejason responds:

    It must be terribly stressful for large intelligent animals to be penned up and put on ‘display’. I realize that zoos do a great deal to insure the survival of endangered species through breeding programs and education but things like this just go to show that it isn’t quite right.

  6. KurtB responds:

    God bless the families of the victims.

    In a society beset with political correctness, the though that we still maintain zoos seems medieval. We should care for orphaned or wounded animals, but keeping healthy animals in captivity for our amusement is wrong. The consequences shouldn’t surprise us.

  7. cabochris responds:

    This is very sad. We caused this tragedy. If we want to help wild animals, lets help them in the wild, starting by leaving them there. Wild animals are not toys! As wonderful as a zoo concept is, it really is a prison.

    Look at what King Kong went through! He was a King on his island and a slave on ours, resulting in a tragic death!

    If tigers had a choice, they would pick freedom. That would be the same if we somehow held a Sasquatch captive. All in the name of Science. Bigfoot would be behind bars! I often wonder if breaking an animals Spirt is not worse than killing the poor beast.

    What happened is very sad, but at least that tiger is now free.

  8. red_pill_junkie responds:

    It is a terrible tragedy for the victim and its family; and of course it raises the issue of the wellbeing and “happiness” of the animals mantained in captivity.

    Zoos have come a long way from the victorian cages where these wonderful felides would incesantly roam from one corner to the next. But they are still a really far cry from perfect.

    Maybe zoos could monitor the levels of stress of the animals (with blood tests) to see if they need a time off the exhibition, or be removed from it entirely.

  9. Richard888 responds:

    As saddened as I feel about the tragic loss and injury of human life, the animal should not have been destroyed unless it threatened someone else’s life. Unfortunately most killings of animals that have mauled humans are unjustified revenge killings.

  10. captiannemo responds:

    The idea of turning an animal that has lost it’s fear of man back into the wild is also a mistake,
    A result that could be even more tragic for man and beast alike.
    The Ghost and the Darkness…….no fear!

  11. Loren Coleman responds:

    Thoughtful zoos do establish breeding programs to preserve rare and nearly extinct species.

    Some zoos should not be open.

    All zoos are not equal.

    The capture and observation of Bigfoot in a progressive zoo would be the way I would prefer to prove they exist rather that killing the first one accepted by zoology.

    King Kong is an imagined story and movie, and bringing that piece of fiction up seems a bit out of place in this discussion. Considering that a tiger and person died, what does the suffering of a fictional character have to do with anything here?

  12. MattBille responds:

    I can’t imagine giving up on zoos. They are, in some cases, the sole hope of keeping a species alive. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo here in Colorado Springs breeds the very rare Amur leopard and the Mexican wolf, and was important in reviving the black-footed ferret. Many of these programs would not exist unless supported by zoo admission and membership fees.

    In the United States, the proliferation of small zoos with little cages is giving way, albeit slowly, to a developing system where, due to public and scientific pressure, zoos become fewer in number, as those which can provide room and suitable (if sometimes simulated) habitats attract support. At the spacious, mainly outdoor exhibits for the aforementioned leopard and wolf at Cheyenne Mountain, visitors come even though they must accept that they may miss seeing a species entirely on any given visit.

    At the National Zoo in Washington, DC, I spent quite a while looking at the foliage of the marmoset habitat without a sure sighting, and saw a tiger only at a distance. There’s a balancing act involved in choosing what animals to put in what habitats: a lot of people would be very upset if they traveled for hours to see the pandas and missed them. The pandas could do with more room and more animal company, but as long as they are well cared for, the service they perform in saving their species is, I think, worthwhile even though the animal obviously has no choice in it.

    This leads into the question of motivating people toward putting their money, effort, and political clout into conservation programs. I’m not aware of any studies on this topic, but I don’t think that even the most superb wildlife photography (I’m watching “Planet Earth” on DVD as I write this) affects most people emotionally the way personally admiring a tiger or laughing at a playful orangutan a few yards away does.

  13. Mnynames responds:

    This question about animal captivity and exhibition has come up more than once in my former career in an aquarium, and my answer is the same I give about why field trips for children are so important as well- If people don’t see these animals and environments, they will not care for (or about) them. Period. End of sentence. More than being the ones responsible for breeding programs for various species, zoos and aquaria are educational centers, spreading word, and with it concern, of these beautiful, priceless species.

    Having said that, Loren is quite right in saying that not all are equal, and some should never be allowed to remain open, whatever the circumstances (Many small zoos can quickly turn into animal hoarding situations). There is also a big difference between a cage and a habitat. Lastly, I agree that authorities are WAY too quick to slaughter dangerous escaped animals, regardless of whether or not they are endangered, but by the descriptions, this shooting may have been justified, as it was said to be approaching a large group of people. Why there wasn’t someone on the scene with a tranq gun is the question we should probably be asking.

  14. kittenz responds:

    As it turns out, it was teenagers that the tiger attacked, and it’s possible, though not proven, that they may have been provoking the tigers and possibly were even involved in the “escape” (which investigators suspect was a release instead of an actual escape).

    What the situation sounds like, to me, is a group of young men who maybe somehow were privy to inside information about the zoo, maybe some of them had worked there or something. Anyway maybe they knew how to open the enclosure. But what they did not count on was the immense strength and speed of an angry tiger. The dead boy was killed right outside the tiger’s enclosure, and then the tigress ran a few hundred feet to a cafe where it mauled two more teenaged boys. Some people are saying that those two boys were seen taunting the tigress. How did the tigress come to run to THAT place and attack THOSE boys? I think that maybe she chased them there after they let her out of her habitat. Just conjecture on my part, but sounds as plausible as anything else I have heard. I did hear on the news this evening that the zoo is now being treated as a crime scene, not an accident site.

    None of that, whether it’s true or not, absolves the zoo’s responsibility for this awful incident. They should have had better security and emergency measures in place; the tigress should never have been able to escape or to be released by unauthorized people in the first place.

    Once the tigress was out, it became imperative to keep her from getting into the general crowd of zoo visitors. I hate it that the tigress had to be killed, but I think of what it would be like, to have that angry 350 lb. cat loose in a mixed crowd of panicked people, and I shudder. What would I feel if that cat attacked me? Or worse yet, my little grandson, or my grandmother? What if there was a class of children there on a field trip? Most people do not know how to behave around wild animals under the best of circumstances, let alone when they are in a panicky crowd confronted with a disoriented, agitated full grown tigress.

    Sedating the tiger was not a viable option in this case; the risk to public safety was too great. If the tigress had escaped outside public hours, at night, for instance, and the escape had been discovered, then the zoo personnel could have sedated the tigress and gotten her safely back into her enclosure. But to try to sedate her under the circumstances that occurred Christmas day would have been a terrible risk to take. A partially sedated cat is an extremely dangerous animal with all its predatory behaviors intact and no inhibitions whatsoever. A tiger does not have to actually maul a person to do serious damage; they can kill a cow with a swipe of a paw. What one could do in a crowd of people is too awful to contemplate.

    What a tragic waste of two lives.

  15. mystery_man responds:

    MatteBille- Very well said. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    Mnynames- Also well said. I agree completely. I think a well designed zoo can be really quite indispensable for educational purposes as well as for conservation measures, and there is no better way to make people care than by seeing these creatures for themselves. Zoos are a great way to educate people as well as instill a sense of the need to conserve these animals because the zoo lets people see some of these fantastic creatures that they would have never had a chance to see otherwise and this can make a big difference from seeing pictures in books. The zoo is one of my favorite destinations for taking my high school biology students as seeing these things for themselves can teach an enormous amount about animals, evolution, the environment, and the importance of conservation more than I could convey through mere words.

    All zoos are indeed not equal, and it breaks my heart when I hear about the ones where conditions for the animals are abysmal. I don’t know how some have been allowed to go on as long as they have. However I do think in this day and age, at least in the States and in Japan, the general trend tends to be that zoos are getting better, so that gives me something to hope for.

  16. Mnynames responds:

    I think most zoos are definitely getting better. I can remember going to the Cape May County Zoo in South Jersey, a pretty big zoo for the area, but a small one overall. When I first went many years ago, I nearly cried upon seeing the big cats pacing back and forth on the concrete slab floors of their tiny chain-link fence cages. It was even sadder to look around and realize I was the only one out of the crowd who thought anything was wrong. I went back years later, and was quite pleased to see that both the lions and the tiger had their own enclosures, each of which could easily hold about 20 of their previous cages, and signs were even in place warning people to not provoke the tiger with baby strollers (I don’t know if this is a tiger thing, or a personal thing for that tiger, but she liked to stalk them and was apparently irritated by the noise of their wheels. I imagine Kittenz might know the answer to that peculiarity). Today, Cape May Zoo is one I would recommend to anyone.

    Kittenz, you are probably right there about the tranq gun. Still may have been possible if they could have cordoned off the area, but obviously that was not the situation. As I said, it sounds from the reports like it was heading for a group of people, and I shuddered too to think of what it might have done. Take any group of people and throw a tiger into the mix (And an obviously irritated one, at that), and you will have mass and immediate panic. Even if it was the sweetest putty tat imaginable, their instincts will still kick in when faced with a dozen running, screaming potential prey items, even if it’s just to shut them up.

  17. DARHOP responds:

    What a tragic situation. I agree, I think there is more to it than the cat just escaping her enclosure. I read this morning that Jack Hannah said it would be pretty impossible for the cat to have escaped its enclosure on its own. I guess there is a 20 ft. moat around it. Tigers can swim though I’m pretty sure.

    I read the other day about a tiger in a zoo in china. It was killed right in her pen. Killed for her hide. They skinned her, right in her pen at the zoo. Now that is unbelievable. What is wrong with some people? Really.

  18. Mnynames responds:

    I caught something about the fence only being 12 feet tall, and most tiger enclosures have 16-foot fences, but I too heard that it would be practically impossible for the tiger to escape on its own. Never underestimate a pissed-off tiger, I guess. The news report I watched said that a shoeprint was found on the fence itself, and a shoe in the moat, along with a great many rocks and pine cones which may have been thrown at the poor tiger. Ugh.

  19. Loren Coleman responds:

    For a December 31, 2007, update, on the tiger attack, see especially the last half of this posting:

    Year Ends With Zoos in News

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