San Francisco Zoo reopens

Mementos left for tiger, victim

police continue inquiry

January 04, 2008|By Steve Chawkins | Steve Chawkins,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO -- Under glowering skies yesterday, visitors started streaming back into the San Francisco Zoo, reopened nine days after a fatal tiger attack.

Within minutes, visitors had placed bouquets and other mementos at a makeshift shrine just inside the zoo's entrance.

A zoo spokeswoman said memorials would be welcomed both for Carlos Sousa Jr., the San Jose man who died, and for Tatiana, the 4-year-old Siberian tiger who was shot by police after mauling Sousa and his two friends, who survived.

"Tatiana was always friendly," said Susan Pettit, a Santa Clara homemaker who gingerly set down photographs, a stuffed animal and flowers in the tiger's memory. "I never saw her act aggressively even once."

"The big cats were like my own kids," said Pettit, who has visited the zoo once a week for three years. "I loved them all."

Police are trying to learn what prompted Tatiana to vault over the 12 1/2 -foot barrier around her enclosure.

Mark Geragos, an attorney for the brothers who lived through the attack, has denied speculation that they and Sousa provoked the animal.

However, yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle quoted a visitor who said she saw a group of young men taunting the lions the afternoon of the attack.

Jennifer Miller told the newspaper that she later recognized Sousa from newspaper photos as being part of the group, although she said she did not see him take part in the teasing.

Sgt. Steve Mannina, a San Francisco police spokesman, confirmed that the department had twice talked with Miller but would not say whether her account had been corroborated or disclose any details of what she told investigators.

Miller said there were four young men at the big-cat grottoes, although only Sousa and his friends, Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, have been publicly identified.

Mannina also confirmed that a vodka bottle was found in the car that Sousa and his friends drove to the zoo. He said the results of toxicology tests will not be released before the investigation is completed.

Exactly how and why Tatiana escaped are still matters of speculation. Mannina said no slingshots, laser pointers, BB guns or other devices were found, despite at least one published report to the contrary.

"We don't believe those things were involved," he said.

At the zoo, workers were tearing into the top of the big-cat walls with jackhammers yesterday, preparing to install glass panels that will raise their height to 19 feet.

Shirley Hardy of nearby Pacifica was among the morning's first visitors. She said she wanted to bring family members to the zoo the day after Christmas but was thwarted by its sudden shutdown,

Hardy, a frequent zoo visitor, said she sees people trying to get the animals' attention from time to time and acknowledged occasionally mugging for the monkeys.

"Maybe we'll all learn to be more respectful," she said. "Maybe it's a lesson all around."

Steve Chawkins writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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