Year Ends With Zoos in News

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 31st, 2007


Goodbye to Nonja.

The final days of December seem an appropriate time to talk about death, a metaphor for an internal feeling of the artificial human construction of a year ending. Death drives the mainstream news. How can we extract something useful out of all of this?

This year thoughts of death have occupied many due to the assassination of Bhutto in Pakistan, of course, and also because of the deaths of two unfortunate victims, Carl Sousa Jr. and the Siberian tiger Tatiana, both at the San Francisco Zoo on December 25, 2007.

sf tiger

Zoos are in the news. Zoos are always in the background in cryptozoology. Wild animals in our midst. Cryptids in our neighborhoods. Zoology for the people. Pay attention to what is being published. Learn some subtle things being conveyed.

The tracking and understanding of zoo escapes and wild animal attacks are significant subjects for study within cryptozoology because both topics often overlap with the data coming our way ~ as debunking explanations, as details within reports, and as components of the reasons for eyewitness confusion. The running joke about the local cryptids merely being animals that “escaped from a circus train wreck” is code for how often mystery animal dismissals are attempted with the “escaped animal” counterstory. As mentioned before, zoo animals don’t escape for long. These stories, furthermore, are no joking matter.

In the wake of what happened at the San Francisco Zoo, the media will be paying more attention to zoo-related news and printing more stories. Don’t ignore them. They are the tip of an iceberg we hardly ever get to see. Some of the stories are unbelievable. The release by vandals and eventual capture again of cougars in Wisconsin, the killing death of a “pet” tiger in Texas, and other animal stories are printed because of what happened on Christmas Day in San Francisco. The media awareness of an interest in zoo animals is there right now. Watch and learn.

Today, the death of Nonja, 55, the world’s oldest Sumatran orangutan in captivity, at the Miami Metrozoo is widespread media fare (over 350 articles worldwide as of this morning).

Meanwhile, the story and mystery of the tiger attack continues as daily news in the Bay Area, especially in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News.

Some of the articles about zoo operations have been anything but faltering. “Alarming gaps in oversight” is a mild way of saying what is being discovered.

The San Francisco Zoo knew their big cat enclosure had short walls for years.

Due to fiscal reasoning, zoo keepers have not been kept on the S.F. Zoo staff overnight for the last decade.

The director at the S. F. Zoo is under fire for creating an institution that cares more about member-oriented celebrations that zoo keeper safety and animal security.

The double-checking of local zoos’ safety is rightfully being mentioned in many articles, as reporters rediscover there are wild animals in their town. Zoos are a good thing, and don’t get me wrong, I am very pro-zoo. But there are good zoos and there are bad zoos, some of which are bad for people and bad for the animals within the zoological exhibitions.

Some of the examples coming forth are horrible.

The Malay Mail reveals how visitors to the Zoo Negara were observed this week to continue to have “climbed over fences, reached beyond the buffer zones to touch the animal enclosures and some even fed the animals.”

The situation there was documented “despite the near-mauling of a five-year-old child by one of the big cats. On Dec 22, one of the cats, first thought to be a spotted leopard but later claimed by the victim’s parents to be a puma, clawed Haw Qian Tong through its fence before pulling her towards itself resulting in scratches on her back, neck and mouth. The cat only released the child upon seeing her father charging towards it,” writes Darshini Kandasamy, in “Visitors Monkey Around,” in the The Malay Mail, December 31, 2007.

sf tiger

Goodbye to Tatiana ~ and Carl Sousa Jr..

Returning to the San Francisco Zoo, the mystery remains, and what happened there is of concern to many. Probably none are more interested than the parents who lost their son. As today’s San Francisco Chronicle Suzanne Espinosa Solis article notes, the two men may not be talking, but one family is certainly still waiting:

The father of the 17-year-old boy who was killed by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo said Sunday that he would like to hear from the two young men who survived the attack.

“I would love to talk to them. I would love to hear from them,” Carlos Sousa Sr. told The Chronicle.

Sousa was responding to reports Sunday by some news outlets that claimed that brothers Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19, had phoned him to say they were sorry and had done everything they could to save his son, Carlos Sousa Jr., in the Christmas Day attack.

But Sousa, reached at his home in San Jose on Sunday night, said he had not heard from his son’s friends, who were released from San Francisco General Hospital on Saturday.

“They have not called me,” Sousa said. “Last time I talked to them is when they told me my son wasn’t with them, and the next day I found out my son was dead, and that makes me a little angry, but there’s nothing I can do.”

The Dhaliwal brothers have been hostile to police in the death investigation, authorities have said. After the attack, the brothers refused to give their names to authorities or identify Carlos Sousa Jr. They also refused, until Thursday when they were interviewed by police, to give authorities an account of what happened. Police have not revealed details of their interview with the brothers.

The brothers had gone to the zoo on Christmas Day with Sousa Jr., who was supposed to spend Christmas evening with his family. When his father was unable to locate him that afternoon, he phoned friends, including the Dhaliwal brothers, who told Sousa Sr. that his son was not with them.

But authorities say the three friends were together at the San Francisco Zoo around 5 p.m. just outside the open-air exhibit belonging to a 350-pound Siberian tiger when she escaped.

The tiger, known as Tatiana, first attacked Kulbir Dhaliwal, who screamed, and then turned to Sousa, authorities say.

As the tiger mauled Sousa, the Dhaliwal brothers ran away, but Tatiana soon caught up and continued her attack until police shot and killed her – 21 minutes after they received the first 911 call, authorities said.

Sousa died where he was attacked, and the brothers were transported to San Francisco General Hospital with bite and scratch injuries. They were treated for their injuries at the hospital until their release Saturday.

Despite the intense public interest in understanding how the tiger escaped, the two surviving witnesses have not publicly revealed details about what they saw or what they were doing just outside the tiger’s grotto.

Some zoo officials have speculated that the tiger may have been taunted, but police have said they have no information indicating Tatiana was provoked. ~ by Suzanne Espinosa Solis, Chronicle Staff Writer, “Father of teen killed by tiger wants to talk to survivors,” Monday, December 31, 2007, San Francisco, California.

sf tiger

Stay tuned.

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.

12 Responses to “Year Ends With Zoos in News”

  1. bill green responds:

    interesting new article about the zoos. but its realy sad of the passing of the oldest orangutan. thanks bill green 🙁

  2. Ayala responds:

    It’s sad that we need stories like this to bring awareness to the topic of zoo animals. I hope the story of what really happened with Tatiana will be revealed.

    I am also sad at the passing of Nonja. It made me wonder if there is a list of life expectancies of primates anywhere on the web. It might be interesting to compare life expectancies of different primates. I believe Bigfoot to be a primate and I just wonder how life expectancies of known primates might relate to Bigfoot’s (or other unknown primates’) life expectancies.

    Things that make you go hmmm… 🙂

    Happy New Year to all! 🙂

  3. Loren Coleman responds:

    One report I read said that Nonja lived five years longer than the normally considered oldest age for orangutans in zoos.

  4. Artist responds:

    Sad to confront, again, the painful reality that despite the altruistic motivations of sincere animal lovers, man’s basic, underlying standard, GREED, overrides & warps & distorts the true picture…

    And so, a young man with his whole life ahead of him is suddenly, terrifyingly, violently and needlessly gone…

    And so, a beautiful, healthy, wildly innocent tiger, by whatever circumstance of human irresponsibility or deliberate interference, is allowed to escape its protective enclosure and display, for a moment, its true animal nature, only to be torn to death needlessly by mindless projectiles…

    And so, the spin begins; attorneys prance, instigators refuse to talk, authorities, zookeepers and other “officials” arrange their alibis, while the paying public looks on in numb dismay…

    And the young man and the tiger are still dead.

  5. gridbug responds:

    I remember when I was a kid and the trips to the zoo were always wondrous, all these amazing things to see and experience, some scary, some funny, but all interesting.

    Nowadays however, I view zoos with sadness. It hurts to see these beautiful, magnificent creatures (all of them our superiors) on display and in counterfeit habitats that are not and will never be even remotely close to their natural environments. It’s no wonder that these animals lash out on occasion. I certainly would.

    I absolutely understand and respect the need to study and -in some cases- preserve the various species as we, The Great Ruiners, erode the ecosystem and drive these wonderful creatures to extinction, great and small, and that sometimes preservation involves containment, but the heaviness in my heart doesn’t comprehend the logical reasoning in my brain.

    And the beat goes on…

  6. eireman responds:

    I, too, have mixed feelings about zoos. But in all, I have to say that their role as stewards to endangered species and educators to the public often balances the scale. For many animals, it is simply no longer safe to roam freely in the environs over which they once reigned – the mountain gorilla, for instance. What concerns me more are the smaller, underfunded “private” zoos, menageries, and personal collections of wild and endangered animals. These creatures (some dangerous) are often mistreated. If one escapes, how likely is it that an individual – without the resources to even care for an animal well – will even bother to recapture it? Many probably do. Some may simply shoot to kill. I wonder how many have escaped, thrived, and bred. Could there actually be some truth to the “escaped from a zoo” theory? It certainly makes one wonder.

  7. Saint Vitus responds:

    The story about the tiger reminds me of something Chris Rock said about the Segfreid and Roy incident:”That tiger didn’t go crazy, that tiger went tiger!” I still have a mostly favorable view on zoos, however. A lot of people think of zoos as prisons for animals, but if you go to a good zoo like the Audubon Zoo or the National Zoo, you will find that this is not the case.

  8. squatch-toba responds:

    People also must remember that the vast majority of animals in modern zoos were born in captivity. I see well funded, well run zoos as a great place to:

    1) educate,

    2) understand the danger that some types of creatures are in,

    3) preserve the ones that are in danger.

    The days of wild animal “take ’em alive” trappers, who bring back gorillas, elephants, and the big cats etc. are long gone. Yes I do know that there are small, disturbing groups doing this on the black market, but modern zoos are not the buyers. The whole tiger disaster at San Francisco was terrible and avoidable but you can’t paint all zoos with the same brush.

  9. Mnynames responds:

    Actually Squatch-Toba, there is one area where most of the animals are still procured from the wild- Aquaria. This is beginning to change, as more and more breeding programs are put into place, and more and more knowledge about how to care for these animals becomes known. Many apparently healthy animals succumb to unknown ailments and diseases, or to a lack of some unknown substance they can find in the wild. Most aquaria lack proper microbiology labs to diagnose or cure such things either. Many remain baffling. I once saw a ribbon eel (Notoriously difficult to keep alive under normal conditions anyway, although we were quite proud to have been able to do so for several months) succumb to something that rotted away most of his body over just a few days, leaving only barely-connected bones behind. Our aquarists were told by experts that they had never heard of such a thing.

    Cooperation is the key to successful breeding programs, as many an aquarium are finding that others are willing to trade what they see as exotics in exchange for what they may consider unremarkable. Where I worked we routinely received expensive corals in exchange for grass shrimp, which we literally could harvest right outside by the truckload. Even so, we bred much of those we traded in captivity.

    Other problems like accepting fish from those who used cyanide to dose the reefs have also been greatly reduced due to monitoring, but more still needs to be done before we can say that even half of the fish you see are not wild-born.

  10. kittenz responds:

    By and large, AZA-accredited zoos are good facilities, with caring staff and healthy animals. There are occasional exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the good that zoos do far outweighs any negatives. When the officials responsible for the zoo begin to cut corners and turn a blind eye to the safety of visitors and animals, those officials must be held accountable, so that zoos will continue to be havens for conservation and education, and will not slip back into the bad old “bring-em-back-alive, use-em-til-they-die” mentality.

    No zoo is completely without its problems and failings, and many zoos that are great in some aspects are poor or even downright terrible in others. For instance, the Cincy Zoo, at which I spend a lot of time, was once known as one of the ten best facilities, worldwide, for their wide range of small cat species. I have noticed in recent years that, while their number of different species of cats has declined, they are heavily involved in breeding some endangered species such as ocelots and Pallas’s cats, with more individual animals of fewer species, as opposed to having one or two indivduals of many species. They also are among the few zoos that has successfully bred the critically endangered Sumatran rhinos, and they have sent one of their zoo-born males – I believe he was the first Sumatran rhino ever to be born in captivity – back to Indonesia for breeding. Those are just a few of the Cincy Zoo’s breeding programs for rare animals – and plants. (Most major zoos are also comprehensive botanical gardens, a fact that is often overlooked.) Yet their habitats for some species, such as snow leopards, are depressingly small.

    Another of my favorite zoos, relatively close to my home, is the Knoxville Zoo. They have some great educational programs, and the zoo is very kid-friendly. They also have a program for training raptors for release into the wild. They have a successful breeding program for white rhinos, and their African elephants have a big enclosure with lots of enrichments for the elephants. Yet their big-cat enclosures are woefully ugly, small and old-fashioned, with no educational value – basically they are just large two-story cages of heavy wire, with a covered sleeping platform and no enrichmant whatsoever. The zoo has signs posted everywhere for construction and improvements that are planned or underway, though, and so I hope that the inadequate enclosures will be very temporary.

    Most other accredited zoos I have visited are similar in that respect – with lots of good points and a few not so good. Most municipal zoos are located in communities that are very proud of their zoo, and the boards of most zoos strive always for improvement.

    I never patronize roadside zoos anymore. They’re depressing and mostly horrible, and the vast majority are inadequate to the point of cruelty. As to those fly-by-night outfits that set up in malls and parking lots, they should be banned outright. They’re dangerous and exploitative, and they drive the indiscriminate breeding of big cats for cubs for the photo-op trade.

    I doubt that there is a “perfect” zoo anywhere on earth. Even large wildlife sanctuaries have their problems. But I believe that zoos are very necessary, especially as wild habitats shrink steadily from human encroachment. Good zoos can function as a reservoir for endangered species, a hedge against complete extinction. Many, many people never get to see animals even when those animals are native to their homelands – not only here but around the world. When people can see, hear and smell animals, they experience a sense of presence, and immediacy that cannot be reproduced in photos or films, no matter how well produced.

  11. kittenz responds:

    This morning I saw some new articles about the SF Zoo tiger attack.

    One said an empty vodka bottle was found in the brothers’ car. One of them was underage, as was Sousa. Toxicology tests will determine whether the young men had been drinking before the tiger attack. If so, then the elder Dhaliwal could be in trouble for allowing underage drinking in his vehicle. If the fourth man was also of age, he could conceivably be in trouble too, assuming his identity is ever discovered.

    Even if this turns out to be true, the tiger should not have been able to escape the pen. But the above and other allegations put the incident in an even uglier light.

  12. Mnynames responds:

    Kittenz said, “Many, many people never get to see animals even when those animals are native to their homelands”

    Too true. In my work at the Atlantic City Aquarium, I can’t tell you how many kids I encountered from Atlantic City and other shore communities who had never seen a beach, let alone crabs and sea stars…How sad is that?

    At least a third of the school groups from Camden I handled were that way, in fact most made comments about snow when they first saw the white sandy beaches of Brigantine. It was the only thing they could relate it to.

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