Moments before the San Francisco Zoo's 5 p.m. closing on Christmas Day, a 350-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana escaped the "big cat grotto" and attacked three young visitors. Pages from a transcript of the San Francisco Police Department's radio transmissions (see below and the following four pages) tell the story. Seventeen-year-old Carlos Souza Jr., who died from the attack outside the tiger pen, is believed to have lured the cat away from his friend Kulbir Dhaliwal, 19, only to be mauled himself. Kulbir and his brother Paul Dhaliwal, 23, fled about 300 yards to the terrace cafe (see a zoo map here), where a zoo employee called 911.
The first radio entry (below) was at 5:08 p.m.: "A VERY AGGITATED [sic] MALE IS CLAIMING HE WAS BITTEN BY AN ANIMAL. … MALE IS BLEEDING FROM THE HEAD." As the zoo was evacuated ("ZOO PERSONNEL ARE GOING AROUND TO ADV PEOPLE TO LEAVE"), rescue squads were initially hesitant to enter the grounds until Tatiana was located ("MEDICS ARE OUTSIDE WILL NOT ENTER TILL SECURE," Page 2). At one point, the zookeepers may have believed the danger to the victims had passed ("ZOO PERSONNEL HAVE THE TIGER IN SIGHT AND ARE DEALING WITH IT. THE VICT IS ACROSS THE ZOO INSIDE A CAFÉ," Page 2). But a few minutes later, Tatiana tracked the brothers to the snack bar while officers radioed, "SCENE IS NOT SAFE" and "SCENE IS NOT SECURE" (Page 3). At 5:27 p.m., police witnessed Tatiana attacking Paul Dhaliwal: "CODE 33. HAVE TIGER ON FOOT ATTACKING VICTIM" (Page 4). But one minute later, they transmitted the message, "SHOT THE TIGER AT THE CAFÉ VICT BEING ATTENDED TO." Tatiana was dead. Radio reports that up to four additional tigers were roaming zoo grounds (Page 5) proved false.
Both Dhaliwal brothers sustained claw and bite wounds to their heads and upper bodies. Now released from the hospital, they have retained "pit bull" trial attorney Mark Geragos, who will no doubt point out that
a.) One year ago, the same tiger attacked a zookeeper;
b.) The wall surrounding the grotto was 4 feet shorter than is recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The San Francisco Zoo, meanwhile, appears likely to argue that Souza or one of the Dhaliwals provoked the attack, either by dangling a limb or by throwing pine cones and sticks at the animal. Little evidence supporting this hypothesis has surfaced thus far.
The zoo will reopen to the public on Jan. 3.
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