Zoo director: Tiger was provoked

The director of the San Francisco Zoo said today the tiger that escaped and killed a zoo visitor and injured two others on Christmas Day was provoked before it leapt over its enclosure, though he declined to point the finger directly at its victims.

“Something prompted our tiger to leap over the exhibit,” zoo director Manual Mollinedo said this afternoon at a news conference announcing new security measures for the zoo's reopening Thursday, thefirst time since the fatal mauling.

Mollinedo would not say whether he felt any of the three friends attacked outside the big cat exhibit on the afternoon of Dec. 25 were acting improperly toward Tatiana, a 350-pound Siberian tiger. The tiger somehow traversed a 33-foot-wide moat, scaled a 12-foot, 5-inch high wall, and fatally mauled 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., of San Jose.

“All I know is that something happened to provoke that tiger out of the exhibit,” Mollinedo repeated.

A police investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

Two of Sousa's friends, San Jose brothers Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, according to media reports, were also attacked, hospitalized and treated for claw and bite wounds. Police responding to the zoo fatally shot the tiger.

About 20 visitors were still inside the zoo at the time of the tiger escape, as the zoo was closing around 5 p.m., according to Mollinedo.

The zoo will reopen Thursday at 10 a.m. with a new public address system to notify visitors if a dangerous animal escapes, Mollinedo said.

Visitors will also be greeted with signs throughout the zoo about “proper zoo etiquette,” warning against tapping on glass enclosures, throwing objects into exhibits, making excessive noise, and teasing or calling out to animals.

The big cat exhibit remains closed indefinitely while the zoo constructs a higher wall around the exhibit's grotto area. Mollinedo said the current wall will be extended to 19 feet and will include glass portals for visitors to view the cats.

Construction on the wall is expected to take about 30 days, he said. The zoo also has “long-term” plans to install security cameras, Mollinedo said.

“I want to ensure all our visitors that the zoo is a safe place,” Mollinedo said.

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