The deadly tiger attack in San Francisco has become more sinister as experts reject a claim by a Zoo officials that the Siberian Tiger leap out of his enclosure. Human involvement would complicate the case against the Zoo, though a human release could cut both for and against greater liability for the Zoo.
The 300-pound tiger named Tatiana escaped from its cage in the San Francisco zoo and killed one zoo visiter and mauled two others. The problem is that this appears to be the second such attack by this particular animal at this Zoo.
Now experts are rejecting a claim by the Zoo that Tatiana made an incredible leap to get out of her enclosure. Such an extraordinary feat would reduce possible liability by showing that it was unforeseeable and unprecedented. Thus, it would not have been unreasonable for the Zoo to have planned for such an occasion.
Police are looking at possible human involvement as experts question the ability of the tiger to escape with a leap.
Police Chief Heather Fong said the department has opened a criminal investigation to “determine if there was human involvement in the tiger getting out or if the tiger was able to get out on its own.”
Police said they have not ruled anything out, including whether the escape was the result of carelessness or a deliberate act. Fong said officers were gathering evidence from the tiger’s enclosure as well as accounts from witnesses and others.
One zoo official insisted the tiger did not get out through an open door and must have climbed or leaped out. But Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo and a frequent guest on TV, said such a leap would be an unbelievable feat, and “virtually impossible.”
“There’s something going on here. It just doesn’t feel right to me,” he said. “It just doesn’t add up to me.” Instead, he speculated that visitors might have been fooling around and might have taunted the animal and perhaps even helped it get out by, say, putting a board in the moat.
Similarly, Ron Magill, a spokesman at the Miami Metro Zoo, said it is unlikely a zoo tiger could make such a leap, even with a running start. “Captive tigers aren’t nearly in the kind of shape that wild tigers have to be in to survive,” he said. He said taunting can definitely make an animal more aggressive, but “whether it makes it more likely to get out of an exhibit is purely speculative.”
Both taunting and criminal acts are foreseeable for zoos and must be considered in designing and running a facility.
For the story on the police investigation, click here
Zoo attacks (sounds like a Fox special, I know) are not uncommon. Under the common law, possessors are strictly liable for injuries causes by their wild animals. A Siberian tiger would certainly fit into that category. However, many states have passed special legislation to protect zoos from strict liability, often returning them to a standard negligence standard.
Only a year ago, the National Zoo in Washington was briefly shut down after a clouded leopard escaped overnight and was found snoozing in another part of the zoo.
Courts have rejected strict liability claims on the basis that this is a public enterprise as well as rejecting attractive nuisance claims for children injured. In Guzzi v. New York Zoological Soc’y, 182 N.Y.S. 257 (N.Y. App. Div. 1920), the court held that the society, which maintained the Bronx Zoo, would not be liable in strict liability or nuisance after a girl who crept under the cage of a bear.
The problem of the zoo is that it appears that this is a second attack by this tiger at this zoo. Families watched in shock in 2006 when Tatiana mauled a zoo keeper.
To make matters worse for the zoo, emergency personnel have complained that there was confusion and insufficient lighting in responding to the emergency call. For those claims, click here
The tiger arrived in San Francisco from the Denver Zoo on December 16, 2005.
For another story, click here