Zoo to sink $1 million into grottoes

The price tag for new security measures at San Francisco Zoo’s big-cat grottoes, where a tiger escaped on Christmas Day, killing one teenager and injuring two of his friends, is at least $1 million, according to a memo from the city official who oversees the zoo.

The work, being handled by two companies, includes the “extension of the concrete wall at all three big-cat grottoes to meet current AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) minimum guidelines,” wrote Recreation and Park Department General Manager Yomi Agunbiade.

Two days after the fatal attack, it was revealed that the height of the wall around the San Francisco Zoo Lion House — in place to protect visitors against such an attack — was about four feet lower than the minimum height recommended by the zoological association.

Other “remediation” work on the grottoes, according to the memo, includes “installation of glass and mesh panels at pedestrian viewing areas, installation of hot wire and associated site work.”

“It is money well spent,” Recreation and Park spokeswoman Rose Dennis said.

The hot wire, otherwise known as an electrical wire, would administer a low-voltage shock if a cat ever came near escaping the perimeter.

To fund the project, Agunbiade signed “a release of emergency funding” that pulled from bond money approved by voters in 1997, said Dennis. The $47 million bond was approved by voters to fund zoo improvements.

The work is meant “to get [the zoo] reopened and back to business in a safe way,” she said.

The improvements to the big-cat grottoes began on Jan. 3. City zoo officials promised they would be completed within 30 days. The work is on schedule and on budget, Dennis said.

On Dec. 25, the tiger, named Tatiana, got across a 33-foot-wide moat, jumped the 12½-foot wall, killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., from San Jose and mauled brothers Kulbir and Paul Dhaliwal, also from San Jose. Authorities are still investigating how the Siberian tiger escaped its enclosure.

On Monday, a Board of Supervisors committee is scheduled to meet in closed session with the city attorney to discuss anticipated litigation as a result of thetiger escape. At 11 a.m., the Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hold a public hearing about overall safety issues at the zoo and the mauling incident.

jsabatini@examiner.com

New security

City officials estimate $1 million as the cost to make the big-cat grottoes safe. The work will include:

» Height increase of concrete wall

» Installation of glass/mesh panels at pedestrian viewing areas

» Installation of hot wire, which administers an electrical shock

Source of funds: $47 million zoo bond approved by voters in 1997

Source: Recreation and Park Department

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