S.F. Zoo Reopens Amid Investigation Of Fatal Tiger Attack

Nine days after a tiger mauled three visitors, the San Francisco Zoo reopened Thursday amid heightened scrutiny of its security procedures and a flurry of questions over the events that led to a teenager's death.

The big cat enclosure where a 350-pound Siberian tiger escaped Christmas Day was closed and will remain so indefinitely, while visitors Thursday found a new public alert system and more signs around the facility warning people not to pester the animals.

Many visitors at the zoo Thursday said they wanted to show their support for the facility.

"They do their best to keep everybody safe," said Dianne Todd, of Sunnyvale, who was there with her two young sons.

The improvements were made as police investigated whether the victims had taunted the tiger before it climbed or leaped out of its outdoor pen. Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, was killed, and his two friends were severely injured.

"All I know is that something happened to provoke that tiger to leap out of her exhibit," zoo director Manuel Mollinedo said Wednesday.

He declined to elaborate because the police investigation continued.

A woman has claimed she saw three men teasing the lions shortly before the tiger attack, according to a report on the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jennifer Miller, who was at the zoo on Christmas with her husband and two children, said the family left the area because her kids were disturbed by the young men's behavior.

"The boys, especially the older one, were roaring at them. He was taunting them," Miller told the newspaper.

Police talked to Miller on Wednesday, but were not able to corroborate reports that the victims taunted the tigers, Inspector Valerie Matthews said.

They also could not substantiate Miller's claim that a fourth person was with the attack victims, or what effect the taunting she described might have had.

"I don't know if what they did was any more than what kindergartners do at the zoo every day," Matthews told the Chronicle.

Sgt. Steve Mannina, a police spokesman, said investigators were looking into whether alcohol was a factor in the attack.

Toxicology tests on Sousa's body have not been completed yet, and results likely will not come back for several weeks, according to the San Francisco medical examiner's office.

Miller said Sousa, whom she later recognized in newspaper photos, was not harassing the animals.

Mark Geragos, an attorney for the survivors - brothers Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, and Paul Dhaliwal, 19 - said none of the victims did anything to goad the tiger into breaking loose.

"That's just nonsense," Geragos said. "There is no evidence of taunting whatsoever because there was no taunting."

Earlier this week, he said the zoo was slow in its response to the escaped tiger, an assertion at least partially backed up by police dispatch logs showing that employees initially questioned whether early reports of the attack were coming from a mentally unstable person.

Mollinedo brushed off Geragos' claims Wednesday, saying he was satisfied with the employees' response. He declined to elaborate, citing the investigation.

None of the zoo's lions or tigers was on view Thursday.

Zoo officials invited visitors to bring items in remembrance of Sousa and the tiger, which was shot dead by police during the attack.

Some visitors placed flowers, cards and photographs of the animal beside a sculpture of a bronze tiger that has stood just beyond the entrance of the zoo since before the mauling.

Animal rights group In Defense of Animals organized a candlelight vigil for Sousa and the tiger for Thursday afternoon in front of the zoo.

Zoo officials say the tiger likely climbed out of an empty moat that separated the public from the animal's enclosure, which had a 12½-foot wall, making it 4 feet shorter than the recommended minimum height for U.S. zoos.

The city has hired an architect to design a new, more secure pen that would put a 19-foot-tall barrier between visitors and the zoo's big cats, Mollinedo said Wednesday.

The new public alert system, which was still being installed Thursday, includes speakers mounted throughout the zoo that would broadcast an alarm sound in an emergency.

The alarm would alert zoo staff, who would use a portable speaker system to instruct visitors what to do next, zoo spokesman Paul Garcia said.


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