Send zoo cats to sanctuaries?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:
SAN FRANCISCO–Carlos Souza, 17, on
Christmas Day 2007 may have meant to provoke a
violent response from a San Francisco Zoo tiger
named Tatiana, though that may never be known
for sure. His ensuing death provoked heated
global debate over the ethics of exhibiting
Apparently making an unprecedented and
unwitnessed leap from her enclosure, Tatiana
killed Souza, then pursued and injured his
companions Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir
Dhaliwal, 24, before police shot her in an open
air cafĂ©, about 300 feet from Souza’s remains.

“Police believe the three people mauled
by a tiger yelled and waved at the cat from atop
a railing,” reported Associated Press writers
Lisa Leff and Terrence Chea on January 18, 2008,
summarizing almost a month of investigation.
“One of the two surviving victims told the father
of the teenager who was killed in the attack that
while the three climbed the 3-foot railing and
tried to get the tiger’s attention, they never
threw or dangled anything into the pen,
according to a search warrant affidavit. The
tiger ‘may have been taunted/agitated by its
eventual victims,’ Inspector Valerie Matthews
wrote in the affidavit. Police believe ‘this
factor contributed to the tiger escaping from its
enclosure and attacking its victims,’ Matthews
All three victims had marijuana in their
systems,” Leff and Chea continued, “and Paul
Dhaliwal’s blood alcohol level was twice the
legal limit for driving, said the affidavit.”
The attack was at least the 21st incident
at the San Francisco Zoo since 1949 involving
injuries or death to animals, staff, or the
public, but it was also reportedly the first
time in the 83-year history of the American Zoo
Association that an animal who escaped from an
AZA-accredited zoo killed a member of the public.
Other members of the public who have been killed
by zoo animals had in some manner entered the
animals’ habitats.
But the 224 AZA-accredited zoos are only
about 10% of all the USDA-licensed captive
wildlife viewing venues in the U.S., and may not
even be 1% of all the captive wildlife exhibition
sites worldwide.
Other recent attacks
In contrast to the media “feeding frenzy”
following the San Francisco Zoo attack, which
generated more than 100 newspaper articles within
the next month, comparable incidents at non-AZA
facilities around the world typically attract
only local or regional notice.
For example, six days earlier, on
December 19, 2007, two Bengal tigers fatally
mauled Jayprakash Bezbaruah, 50, at the Assam
State Zoo in Guwahati, India. Bezbaruah
extended his arms into the tigers’ cage to
photograph one of the tigers, his wife Rupa told
reporters. He apparently did not see the other
tiger, who grabbed him and pulled him into the
cage while his school-age eldest son Angshuman
tried to pull him back. Rupa and their younger
son saw the incident from too far away to help.
The Assam Human Rights Commission on January 9,
2008 asked the zoo to respond to questions about
visitor safety by February 26.
On December 24, 2007, one day before
the San Francisco Zoo tiger attack,
five-year-old Haw Qian Tong received 10 stitches
on her lips after being scratched by either a
puma or a spotted leopard at Zoo Negara in
Malaysia. Her parents said she was attacked by
the puma while standing with her back to the
cage. Zoo staff said the attacking animal was
the leopard. Zoo Negara director Mohamed Ngah
told Jennifer Gomez of NST Online that the victim
had crossed safety barriers including ornamental
trees and a wire fence.
Less than one day after the San Francisco
Zoo tiger attack, on December 26, 2007, a
Asian elephant named Arna, traveling with the
Stardust Circus in New South Wales, Australia,
crushed veteran handler Ray Williams, 57, at
the Yamba Showgrounds.
Two weeks later the circus transferred
Arna and a second Asian elephant named Gigi to
the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. Whether the
elephants would stay at the zoo “is dependent on
whether they pass behavioral and health
assesments. There is also the matter of whether
the zoo can afford to house the elephants,”
reported Jess Perriam of the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation.
Added Perriam, “New South Wales acting
environment minister Nathan Rees says while he’s
open to the idea of the zoo keeping the
elephants, he hopes it won’t set a precedent for
other circuses to expect zoos to take unwanted
On January 1, 2008, six days after the
San Francisco Zoo tiger attack, an 11-year-old
captive-born bottlenose dolphin named Annie was
asked to leap over a baton held as a hurdle by
six participants at a swim-with-dolphins session
at the Dolphin Academy in Curacao. In mid-leap
Annie abruptly turned sideways, appearing to aim
at the last woman on the dolphin’s right, and
hit her as well as two others.
The extent of the people’s injuries was not
disclosed. Dolphin Academy staff reportedly
confiscated the cameras of witnesses and took
their film, but a video of the attack was posted
by the Dutch Party for the Animals at
<>. Party
for the Animals founder Marianne Thieme called
for abolishing dolphin captivity.
Thieme’s response echoed the views
expressed by prominent animal advocates after the
San Francisco Zoo attack.
“There is not a zoo in this country that
comes close to providing tigers with the space
that they need,” charged PETA spokesperson Lisa
Wathne, to San Francisco Chronicle staff writer
Leslie Fulbright. “The San Francisco Zoo made
the decision to put its elephants in a
sanctuary,” Wathne reminded, “and they should
make the same decision for tigers.”
The last San Francisco Zoo elephant was
transferred to the Performing Animal Welfare
Society sanctuary in rural northern California in
March 2005.
“Because of findings that the wall around
the exhibit was the wrong height, we’re asking
the zoo to close down that tiger pen,” In
Defense of Animals founder and president Elliot
Katz told Patrick May and John Woolfolk of the
San Jose Mercury News. “These tigers should be
sent to a sanctuary and not be around the public
any more,” Katz said.
“The San Francisco Zoo and others around
the country should do away with such exhibits,”
agreed Animal Defense International program
director Jennifer Blum. “Even with the best of
intentions and state-of-the-art facilities,
these establishments cannot provide the animals
with the space and environment they truly need
and deserve, and this deprivation results in
mental and emotional damage.”
Recalled University of Colorado emeritus
professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
Marc Bekoff, “A year ago Tatiana attacked a
keeper. Tatiana lived for a time at the Denver
Zoo, and was shipped to San Francisco because
the Denver Zoo wanted to redecorate. Large
carnivores simply do not belong in zoos,” Bekoff
wrote. “Isn’t it about time that the Association
of Zoos and Aquariums start investigating how to
rid zoos of these animals and send them off to
sanctuaries, so they can live out their lives
with dignity?”
Bekoff said that some of his students had
discovered during the 1990s that 20-25% percent
of zoo visitors taunt the animals, especially
predators such as lions and tigers.
But “When something like this happens,
what you find is that it’s almost never that
there just was one single thing that went wrong,”
American SPCA science advisor Stephen Zawistowski
told May and Woolfolk. “It’s a cascade of
things. The wall wasn’t a height that was
appropriate; there was an animal with a past
history; there was nobody there to keep track of
her; there were people harassing her. When you
click down that list and they all align, you end
up with a tragedy.”
The San Francisco Zoo tiger and lion
house moat and walls, built in 1940, are two
feet shorter than the current AZA
recommendations. At that time even most big cat
experts were unaware that tigers can leap more
than twice as far as African lions. Even so, no
other tiger had ever leaped out.

No sanctuary space

Reality is that no big cat sanctuary in
the U.S. and only a handful anywhere offer either
substantially more space to each cat than the San
Francisco Zoo, or have significantly more secure
barriers to escape–and even fewer have the
capacity to hold many more animals than those
they already care for.
At least twice in recent years,
sanctuaries have taken in large numbers of tigers
who were confiscated by law enforcement, but
only after more than a year apiece of preparation.
Wild Animal Orphanage, of San Antonio,
Texas, in 2003 received 24 tigers who had been
confiscated nearly five years earlier, after
state and federal agencies moved to close the
former Tigers Only Preservation Society compound
in Jackson Township, New Jersey. The
International Fund for Animal Welfare paid to
build the tigers’ new accommodations.
A year later the Performing Animal
Welfare Society received 39 tigers who were
seized in 2002 from Tiger Rescue founder John
Weinhart, who was in February 2005 convicted of
cruelty and child endangerment. These tigers’
quarters were paid for by the Fund for Animals,
as one of the last big Fund projects before it
merged into the Humane Society of the U.S.
Several other tigers rescued from Tiger
Rescue were taken to the Shambala Preserve in
Acton, California, founded by actress Tippi
Hedren. One of those tigers on December 3, 2007
mauled nine-year Shambala worker Chris Orr, 40.
If conditions at AZA-accredited zoos can
be faulted for animal attacks, whatever is wrong
at zoos would appear to be even more wrong at
sanctuaries, which are significantly less
regulated, are accredited–if at all–by
competing organizations that among them include
only a small percentage of the facilities
claiming to be sanctuaries, and have markedly
more fatal accidents even though they employ
relatively few people and attract just a fraction
as many visitors.
Among the recent sanctuary attack
victims, senior caregiver Joanna Burke, 36,
was killed in July 2006 by an elephant at the
Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
Visitor Haley Hilderbrand, 17, was
killed by a Siberian tiger in August 2005 at the
Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Mound Valley,
Volunteer St. James Davis lost his nose,
testicles, left foot, an eye, and several
fingers to a March 2005 attack by two escaped
chimps at the Animal Haven Ranch sanctuary in
southern California.
Cougar Bluff (Illinois) sanctuary
cofounder Allison Brent Abell was killed by an
African lion at the sanctuary in February 2004.
Second Nature Exotic Cats Sanctuary founder
William Olsen, 32, of Hennepin, Illinois, was
fatally mauled by a tiger in March 2003.
Linda Bracket, 35, a volunteer at Safari Joe’s
Rock Creek Exotic Animal Park near Adair,
Oklahoma, was fatally mauled by a tiger in April
2003. Helper Amanda Sternke, 20, was injured
in the same attack. The tiger belonged to the
International Wildlife Center, a Texas facility
closed in 2002 due to repeated violations of
animal care and zoning standards.
Also in April 2003, an African lion who
escaped from a cage that had apparently been
tampered with ran over and severely injured Wild
Animal Orphanage founder Carol Asvestas, after
Asvestas shot him with a tranquilizer dart. The
lion was then killed by police.
Perennially scarce funding is the most obvious
reason why sanctuary accommodations and security
rarely approach zoo standards.
In September 2006, for example, nearly
250 large carnivores were in imminent jeopardy of
losing their sanctuary placements just in the
state of Colorado, when three of the largest
sanctuaries in the U.S. simultaneously ran into
crises due to loss of financial support in two
cases and the death of the founder in the third.
Because of the extreme financial demands
of housing and feeding large carnivores, many
sanctuaries that house them become quasi-roadside
zoos. Though nominally not open to the public,
they depend for much of their income on hosting
group tours, camera safaris, and special
events, and because they can barely afford to
pay staff, they often rely upon an ever changing
cadre of volunteers to do most of the work.
IFAW reported in August 2006 than an
18-month investigation of 42 USDA-licensed big
cat facilities in 11 states, including both
roadside zoos and self-designated sanctuaries,
found that most “were structurally unsound. Some
had no barriers at all. Contact between big cats
and young children was common. Many facilities
had no attendants to handle the big cats. Some
allowed children to work as attendants.”
The conditions were often no safer for
the animals. “Some animals were fed rotten meat
and housed with dead animals, filthy water
buckets, and sewage,” IFAW summarized.
“There are nearly 700 USDA big cat
licensees in the U.S. with the highest number of
facilities in Florida, Texas and California,”
IFAW noted. “In the past decade, there were 13
big cat incidents in Florida, 12 in Texas, six
in California, and five each in Illinois,
Nevada, Minnesota, and Kansas. Since 1990,
big cats have killed 13 people in the U.S. alone.”
The IFAW findings followed an April 2005
report by Los Angeles Times staff writer Amanda
Covarrubias that the California Department of
Fish & Game, required by law to annually inspect
exotic animal facilties, had in 2004 actually
visited only 14 of the 338 known sites housing
exotic animals.

The lion Neo and nine lionesses from a
defunct amusement park in Austria, along with
two lions rescued from substandard situations in
Romania, on November 28, 2007 leaped from
transport cages into a newly built
45,000-square-meter habitat at the Lionsrock
Sanctuary in South Africa. A subsidiary of the
Austrian charity Vier Pfoten, Lionsrock, one of
the few big cat sanctuaries worldwide offering a
semblance of authentic wild habitat, will
formally open to visitors in February 2008.

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