Zoo upgrades costing millions

In the wake of a fatal Christmas Day tiger mauling, the San Francisco Zoo has spent nearly $2 million in security upgrades, an official said.

Increased staffing for after-hour shifts, a centrally located gun safe, direct access to the local police station and a handheld pendant that can trigger a code-red alarm with the touch of a button are some of the improvements San Francisco Zoo officials are implementing as a way to improve security at the facility.

“We have put forth a substantial effort to improve the functionality of the facility,” said Jesse Vargas, director of operations from the San Francisco Zoo.

The efforts are part of an ongoing reassessment of the zoo’s procedural strategy since the Christmas Day escape of a 250-pound Siberian tiger led to the fatal mauling of a visitor and serious injuries to his two friends, zoo officials told the Recreation and Park Commission on Thursday.

As part of the new changes, all zoo officials that work with a “code red” animal, meaning any creature that could be of harm to the public, have access to a device that if held down for two seconds will send out a security alarm blasted over the facility’s loudspeakers, Vargas said.

The zoo also changed its radio codes to better coordinate with the nearby Taraval Police Station, and increased the number of employees working after the close of the facility from one to two, Vargas said. Another could be on the way, he said.

A hot-line number is now visible at all zoo exhibits, so visitors can call security officials anytime they see an animal being harassed, Vargas said.

A recent report released by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums expressed disapproval at the zoo for having 29 of its 31 animal-care personnel and two ofits three veterinarians off work when Tatiana, the 4-year-old Siberian tiger, escaped from her grotto and killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr.

Last month, the two surviving members of the attack, Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19, of San Jose, filed a claim against The City — which has joint responsibility of the zoo — citing issues of negligence, defamation and property grievances.

wresiman@examiner.com

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