Zoo officials were skeptical of initial claim

“Frustrated” police officers were initially denied entry into the San Francisco Zoo as a Siberian tiger roamed the grounds, eventually killing one 17-year-old and mauling two other young men, according to police and a transcript of communications between emergency personnel.

Lt. Mike Favetti, of the Taraval Police Station, was the highest ranking officer on scene, and he said the plainclothesmen who arrived at the South Gate entrance were “frustrated” when zoo personnel would not let them in and instead directed them around to an employee entrance roughly 100 yards away.

“I know they tried talking their way in there for at least 30 seconds,” said Favetti, who applauded other zoo personnel for their heroism during the ordeal. “It’s kind of a long time when a tiger is chewing on your neck.”

Zookeepers had the tiger in sight and were “trying to calm it down” at 5:16 p.m., according to the transcript of emergency communications, which was released by police Friday.

One minute later, the dispatcher said police were having trouble entering the zoo: “Zoo security is not letting the [police department] in,” the transcript says.

Zoo officials contacted by The Examiner declined to comment, saying they were conducting their own investigation.

San Francisco police continue to investigate the incident, but they have determined that the tiger’s escape was unintentional or caused by any other criminal conduct, Sgt. Neville Gittens said.

On Christmas Day, Tatiana, a 4-year-old tiger, escaped her habitat and was loose in the zoo for at least 19 minutes until 5:27 p.m., when police shot and killed the big cat.

But before the tiger was shot, she killed Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, and maimed his friends — brothers Paul, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23. All three are from San Jose.

Emergency personnel were first notified at 5:08 p.m. when a Terrace Café employee called 911 saying an “agitated man is claiming he was bitten by an animal,” according to the transcript.

The two brothers attacked were initially considered mentally unstable by zoo personnel and “making something up” about a tiger biting one of them, the transcript says.

The transcript depicts a scene quickly descending into fear when at 5:11 p.m. the transcript read, “The tiger is out of the gate and they are locking up the zoo.”

At 5:20 p.m., personnel are advised that the scene is not safe, and at 5:22 a call technician takes a call from one of the Dhaliwal brothers, saying his brother was bit by a tiger.

Just a minute later he hung up his phone, according to the transcript.

At 5:25, a Taraval officer has the tiger directly in front of him, but then a minute later the tiger disappears.

At 5:27 officers found the tiger attacking its third victim at the Terrace Café and shot it.

The Lion House will be closed for an undetermined amount of time, but zoo officials said the rest of the zoo will reopen Thursday.

dsmith@examiner.com

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