SAN FRANCISCO – The director of the zoo where a teenager was killed by an escaped tiger acknowledged Thursday that the wall around the animal’s pen was just 12 1/2 feet high – well below the height recommended by the accrediting agency for the nation’s zoos.
San Francisco Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo also admitted that it is becoming increasingly clear the 300-pound Siberian tiger leaped or climbed out of its open-air enclosure, perhaps by grabbing onto a ledge.
“She had to have jumped,” he said. “How she was able to jump that high is amazing to me.” Mollinedo said investigators have ruled out the theory the tiger escaped through a door behind the exhibit.
According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the walls around a tiger exhibit should be at least 16.4 feet high. But Mollinedo said the wall was 12 feet, 5 inches, with what he described as a “moat” 33 feet across.
He said safety inspectors had examined the 1940 wall and never raised any red flags.
On Wednesday, the zoo director said that the wall was 18 feet high and the moat 20 feet wide. Based on those earlier, incorrect estimates, animal experts expressed disbelief that a tiger in captivity could have made such a spectacular leap.
The animal, a female named Tatiana, went on a rampage near closing time on Christmas Day, mauling three visitors before it was shot to death by police. Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, died and two brothers, ages 19 and 23, suffered severe bite and claw wounds.
Police have declared the big-cat exhibit a crime scene.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday that police are looking into the possibility that the victims had taunted the tiger and dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of the moat. The newspaper said police had found a shoe and blood inside the enclosure.
But Police Chief Heather Fong said police had no information that anyone had put a leg over the railing, and she said no shoe was found in the animal’s enclosure. She did not address whether the victims had teased the tiger.