No headstone for Tatiana

With a monument full of trinkets, an official MySpace memorial page and more than one funeral gathering, some would think one of the most infamous Siberian tigers in recent memory would get a majestic burial.

Instead, many of Tatiana’s body parts will be probed and preserved while the rest, including the tiger’s coat, have already been incinerated. It’s just what happens to all zoo animals after they die.

Tatiana, who weighed 243 pounds when she was killed, died when police opened fire the night she fatally attacked one teenager and mauled two of his friends. Three bullets hit their mark, one between the eyes, one through the lung and one through the left ventricle of the heart. Police say she was sitting on her haunches next to one of the living victims of the Christmas Day attack when she turned on the officers.

The next day, Freeland Dunker, the San Francisco Zoo’s chief veterinarian, performed a necropsy on the tiger. He found frayed hind claws, evidence that the tiger clawed her way over the 12-foot 5-inch wall. He also found a stomach full of meat, evidence that the tiger just fed.

After completing the examination of the cat, Dunker sent Tatiana’s head and legs to the San Francisco Police Department, where a criminal investigation is winding down. Now, those body parts are in the possession of the San Francisco medical examiner.

Some day, Dunker said, he hopes the tiger’s bones and skull will end up back at the zoo, where curators can show visitors for an educational experience.

Some of Tatiana’s remains may be preserved forever. The zoo keeps parts of livers, hearts, brains and other vital organs in freezers where they can be examined later in case of medical and DNA advancements. Another set of tissue goes to Northwest ZooPath in Monroe, Wash., where a sample is scrutinized under an electron microscope for viral infection. A piece of Tatiana’s brain even went to The City’s Department of Public Health for rabies testing.

Her coat and body were cremated at the zoo with little ceremony, said Dunker.

Preserving the animal is what Dunker and other zoo experts call a unique opportunity for researchers to obtain rare material.

“The animal, in a way, lives on. We continue to learn from them,” Dunker said.

bbegin@examiner.com  

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