Nachos were a key part of the discussion when police interviewed the two young men who survived a tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day 2007.
Brothers Kulbir and Amritpal “Paul” Dhaliwal have never spoken to the media about what happened at the zoo that day, when a Siberian tiger, Tatiana, leapt out of her enclosure and attacked the two and their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., who died in the mauling.
Without cameras focused outside the tiger grotto, and with few witnesses coming forward to speak about what occurred, much of what actually happened leading up to and during the attack remains unclear.
In a never-before-released police interview obtained by The San Francisco Examiner, the brothers talk about what they say happened before, during and after the attack, while the officers consider criminal charges.
There was always speculation that they threw something into the moat that, along with a wall, separates the tigers from zoo patrons. Despite repeated questions by police after the attack, however, the brothers never admitted to throwing anything at the big cats.
What did emerge during the interview — conducted at the hospital about midnight, seven hours after the attack — was that the friends were eating nachos before the attack. That fact was latched onto by Inspector Valerie Matthews, who headed the investigation. Queries about when they were eating the cheese-covered chips and if t
he friends threw any to the tigers were repeated several times.
“No,” Paul Dhaliwal said in response to the questioning. “How could we throw some nachos at a tiger?”
“I don’t know,” Matthews said. “I’m just trying to understand what would make a tiger want to come after you guys.”
The brothers also talk about seeing 240-pound Tatiana sliding down into the moat area surrounding the enclosure before she leapt over a 12-foot-5-inch wall to attack the trio, immediately going after the younger Dhaliwal.
“They have to make that [expletive] bigger or something, man,” Paul Dhaliwal told Matthews. “That fool just jumped over the whole thing. How can they make something that the tiger can jump over?”
The brothers also speak about running from the tiger enclosure, being attacked again at another site in the zoo, and the response of the police and emergency personnel to the mauling.
The taped interviews, however, still do not reveal what happened that day, when police had to shoot the tiger to death after the attack.
Sousa’s attorney, Michael Cardoza, said that no matter what happened leading up to the mauling, the zoo was 100 percent at fault.
“You could strap 100 pounds of filet mignon on your body and the tiger still shouldn’t be able to get out,” Cardoza told The Examiner.
The zoo has since renovated the enclosures. The wall keeping the tiger in is now 19-feet high, and a bench has been installed in Sousa’s name.
In the three years since the attack, the brothers have been in and out of trouble with the law. Kulbir, 26, and Paul, 22, Dhaliwal were involved in a drunken driving incident in August 2009. Before that, police arrested Kulbir Dhaliwal on suspicion of cocaine possession and Paul Dhaliwal was convicted of stealing electronics equipment from a store.
Calls for comment to the attorney for the Dhaliwals were not returned.
Both the Dhaliwal and Sousa families have since settled civil litigation regarding the incident, claiming that public relations specialist Sam Singer ruined their reputations by emphasizing that they had been drinking and smoking marijuana before heading to the zoo that day.
“There is a lesson to be learned from this terrible tragedy,” Singer said Tuesday. “Don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke marijuana and don’t taunt man-eating animals. I guess, maybe, you could also apply that advice to snack foods.”
In never-before-heard tapes of the police interview of the Dhaliwal brothers, the pair talk about the attack at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day 2007.
Police: Now, OK, so you went to the zoo with your brother, Amritpal, and Carlos, and when you guys were over near the tiger area, what were you guys doing?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: We were just looking at the tiger, passing by, and this tiger just jumped up, and then, then—
Police: OK, were you guys eating anything?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Oh, we had nachos.
Police: OK, all of you had nachos?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Uh, we only had one plate, so—
Police: Who was holding the nachos?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Um, can’t remember.
Police: Did you guys do anything to try and get the tiger’s attention?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: No, we were just looking for a minute then we were walking away and this tiger jumped at us.
Police: You didn’t talk to the tigers, or—
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Nah.
Police: You didn’t try to get their attention? Because, I know, sometimes at the zoo when you see animals they’re just kind of laying there, you know? So you might want to get their attention to, you know, see them move around and that type of thing.
Kulbir Dhaliwal: No.
Police: Did you guys throw anything at them? Throw them any nachos or any food?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: No.
Police: Did [the tiger] come down the stairs, or how did he get down?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Not the stairs, but one of the little sliding thingies.
Police: He just kind of slid down that wall area?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: Mm-hm.
Police: And then once he slid down and was at the bottom, was he running down there to jump up?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: He was just walking.
Police: You saw him walking down there. So did you have a feeling he was going to try and jump up to get out?
Kulbir Dhaliwal: I couldn’t see anything. He was just too low.
Police: So as I explained, we’re just investigating what happened and I just want you to start from the beginning and tell us what you can remember.
Amritpal Dhaliwal: There was a tiger attacking me ... I just seen him and I just, [expletive], I started running from him and he [expletive] just attacked me. I couldn’t get away from him. And then right after, like, somehow I got away and he got my boy Carlos.
Police: And, you guys, were you eating anything?
Amritpal Dhaliwal: Uh, we were eating nachos, but it was done. I think we already ate them before we got there.