Leopard rips hole in S.F. Zoo enclosure

A nearly 100-pound snow leopard at the San Francisco Zoo managed to rip a small opening in its wire mesh enclosure and get part of its muzzle and paw out of the gash, zoo officials said Friday.

Zoo director Manuel Mollinedo said no one was injured during the incident Thursday afternoon and visitor safety wasn't compromised. The zoo was open at the time.

“At no point was there any danger to the public. This was a double containment area,” Mollinedo said. The leopard was in a cage within a cage, the director said, and would've had no way of getting out of the bigger secured enclosure.

The incident comes less than three weeks after a 250-pound tiger escaped from its pen and mauled three zoo visitors. A teenager was killed in the Dec. 25 attack and his two friends severely injured.

Mollinedo described Thursday's incident during a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing into the Christmas Day attack.

He said the leopard had been moved out of the feline conservation area so workers could do maintenance there. It was put in one cage that sat in a larger caged enclosure. The leopard was able to separate some of the wire mesh of the inner cage and squeeze its paw and a portion of its head out of a 4-inch hole, Mollinedo said.

Zoo spokesman Sam Singer called the incident “a minor breach” and said the hole has been patched up with plywood.

City officials Friday listened to Mollinedo during the first of several hearings at City Hall examining the recent deadly attack and ways to improve safety.

“Like you, I am committed to finding answer to make sure this type of accident does not happen again,” Mollinedo said.

Dozens of zoo supporters and critics spoke during the public testimony portion of the hearing. Most voiced support for keeping the zoo in San Francisco, but many called for a change in management and asked Mollinedo to resign.

Zoo officials have suggested the tiger, called Tatiana, was provoked into climbing out of its enclosure.

“I believe something unusual and extraordinary happened to cause this tiger to get out of its exhibit,” he said, noting that the Christmas Day attack was the first time in 67 years that “a tragedy like this has occurred.”

Mark Geragos, a lawyer for the two men who survived the attack, has insisted the brothers – Paul Dahliwal and Kulbir Dahliwal – did not taunt the tiger.

Meanwhile in a courtroom not far from the hearings, Geragos and lawyers for the city appeared before a judge regarding items taken from the scene of the attack and from the brothers' car.

A judge granted Geragos' request to move the case to Santa Clara County, where the brothers live. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

City officials believe that cell phones, clothing and the car belonging to the three victims could offer proof that they were intoxicated and threw objects into the tiger enclosure shortly before the maulings, according to documents filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court.

Proof that the victims provoked the tiger could be used to defend the city in any legal action against the zoo, the city attorney's office argued.

The documents do not elaborate on the apparent evidence of drug use or what items in the car may be linked to objects found in the tiger's pen.

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