San Francisco Zoo Reopens After Tiger Attack

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The San Francisco Zoo reopened its doors Thursday for the first time since Christmas, when a Siberian tiger escaped it enclosure and mauled three visitors. A 17-year-old visitor was killed and two of his friends were seriously injured. There are still many questions surrounding the tiger attack; but KPCC's Julie Small says the tragedy didn't keep zoo lovers from coming back.

Julie Small: Reporters outnumbered the public at the reopening of the San Francisco Zoo. But it wasn't clear if that's because people feared for their safety, or just hoped to stay dry as a big storm moved into the area. The people that did show up hoping to hear tigers roaring heard this instead:

[Sound of jackhammers]

Jackhammers at the big cat display. The zoo fenced off the area that houses four lions and four tigers. Crews are constructing a six-foot glass extension to the outer moat wall of the enclosures. Somehow the tiger that killed Carlos Souza escaped from her enclosure to the other side of that 13-foot high wall. Phil Lei of Cupertino wasn't fazed by all the noise. In fact, it's the reason he came to the zoo after a decade.

Phil Lei: It changed completely!
Small: What made you decide to come today?
Lei: Oh, the tiger. Tiger. (laughs)
Small: You wanted to see the tiger?
Lei: No, I didn't want to see the tiger, I just want to see the facility.

Small: Lei doesn't blame the zoo for the tiger's attack last month.

Lei: I think it was somebody taunting the cat, because I have been here before, but I never thought about it wasn't safe, even with that height, and who knows, they can jump out.

Small: The San Francisco Zoo's Paul Garcia says they hope to finish the safety enhancements for the cat enclosure by the end of the month so they can reopen it. The big cats and their live daily feedings are the zoo's most popular attraction.

Garcia says the zoo's also installed a new alarm system for emergencies and reactivated a PA system dismantled a decade ago after neighbors complained about noisy announcements. But Ester Busse of San Francisco says she's not worried about another tiger attack. She brought her one and two year olds for their weekly visit.

Ester Busse: It's highly unlikely that something like that would happen, I would think. And it's– I have no idea how the tiger got out. I think they're probably never ever going to figure that out. But, hopefully the zoo's going to survive this. Because we'd, you know, miss out on a lot of nice walks and fun times if it were to close for something like this.

Small: All the visitors I spoke to blamed human error for the tiger attack. They say the Siberian tiger named Tatiani was a wild animal and shouldn't be blamed for what happened. Officials shot the tiger dead at the Terrace Cafe where she mauled the two surviving visitors. Just inside the park's entrance, a bronze tiger statue has turned into an informal memorial. Someone placed a golden sash around the tiger's bronzed neck. Others set bouquets, and little stuffy toy tigers at its feet.