S.F. Zoo fighting to contain animals

The San Francisco Zoo continues to struggle with animal containment, it was revealed at a hearing requested by Mayor Gavin Newsom in the wake of a fatal tiger mauling.

Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo disclosed that a 100-pound snow leopard Thursday managed to rip an opening of a wire mesh cage with its paw and push its muzzle through the opening as it was being moved. The zookeeper responded quickly by luring the snow leopard back into its cage, he said.

The revelation came during Mollinedo’s presentation to the Recreation and Park Commission, which oversees the zoo, regarding the Christmas Day mauling of three zoo visitors, resulting in the death of one of the victims.

Tatiana, a 4-year-old Siberian tiger, was killed by San Francisco police officers after she jumped a 12½-foot wall. She attacked and killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and left two brothers wounded.

More than 100 people turned out Friday to support or begrudge the zoo at the first public hearing since the Christmas Day mauling.

“At no time was there any danger to the public because this was a double containment area,” Mollinedo said, referring to the cage within a cage that kept the snow leopard.

A week earlier, zoo employees had to use darts to push a polar bear into its night enclosure; the next day, the zoo said it was raising the height of the wall of the polar bear exhibit.

Commission member Jim Lazarus, a former employee with the San Francisco Zoological Society, the nonprofit that operates the zoo, said the stress of zoo keeping was an “ongoing issue that needs to be dealt with.”

At the end of the hearing, commission members unanimously approved requests including a review by zoo and Recreation and Park officials of reports on zoo conditions specifically relating to public and employee safety; development of an emergency-response plan with the police and fire departments; development of a plan for strategic lighting, security cameras and other security improvements; and another public hearing within a month for a follow-up report.

The commission also requested a financial audit of the zoo from the Controller’s Office. Rec and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade said an independent peer review committee will be brought in and made up of animal experts to review the zoo’s management and protocols.

dsmith@examiner.com

Hearing moved to Santa Clara

Lawyers for The City and the San Francisco Zoo will have to wait until Wednesday to hear back on a request to inspect the cell phones and car of two brothers who survived a Christmas Day tiger mauling, as it was decided Friday that the hearing should be transferred from San Francisco to Santa Clara Superior Court.

Amritpal Dhaliwal, 19, and his brother Kulbir, 23, were injured in an attack that killed their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. Because no litigation has been filed in the death of Sousa or the mauling of the Dhaliwal brothers, the hearing must take place in the brothers’ resident county of Santa Clara, San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner Bruce Chan ruled.

The request is scheduled to go before a Santa Clara judge Jan. 16.

The City Attorney’s Office contends that key evidence to the case can be found in the brothers’ car and cell phones.

“Something happened to provoke that tiger, and the Dhaliwal brothers were the only ones present that know what happened,” said Sean Connolly of the City Attorney’s Office.

Shepard Kopp, representing the brothers from the office of their attorney Paul Geragos, said the brothers had nothing to hide.

“There is nothing that is going to come out of any of this that is incriminating,” Kopp said. “But our clients want their property back. They’ve had their car and their cell phones seized for coming up on three weeks now without legal authority.”

— Will Reisman

Bay Area NewsLocal

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