Zoo keeper's lapse leads to tiger attack, death

June 07, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- David Marshall, senior mammal keeper at Metrozoo, had moved the 350-pound Bengal tiger hundreds of times before.

The ritual involved layers of security -- warning signs, holding cages, guillotine gates, pin locks, safety keys.

A keeper never, ever opened that last eight-foot concrete door leading to the tiger viewing area until he had followed all the steps. After all, Lucknow, the 10-year-old full grown tiger, was as ferocious as any animal at the zoo.

But for some reason, Mr. Marshall -- a zoo keeper with about 20 years' experience -- did open that door yesterday morning about 7:30, before the zoo opened to the public. The tiger, which stands nine feet tall on its hind legs, was waiting behind it. Mr. Marshall, 44, working alone, was attacked, mauled and killed.

Other zoo employees trying to reach him by walkie-talkie got no answer and finally went to check on him.

They found his motionless body lying in the middle of the public viewing area where the tigers are normally on display. Lucknow had dragged him there.

"I don't know. I don't know, I don't know," said an agonized Ron Magill, communications officer of Metrozoo, when asked how the accident had happened.

"David was the consummate zoo professional," Mr. Magill said. "He had the kind of instincts that he knew what an animal was going to do before he did [it]. People with doctorates in zoology don't have that. I don't know why David did what he did. Maybe we'll never know."

Mr. Marshall was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy by county medical examiners revealed he had died of a broken neck, which is how tigers often kill.

"In the end, I think we'll find it was human error," said Mr. Magill.

Mr. Marshall's wife, Lisa, also works at Metrozoo, directing the children's zoo. She was on the premises when the accident happened and was under sedation at home late yesterday. The couple have one child, a 4-year-old daughter.

Mr. Magill said nothing would be done to the animal.

"Lucknow did nothing wrong," he said. "He was just being a tiger."

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