The zoo is nestled at the west end of Golden Gate Park. Shielded by trees, the zoo is peaceful and uncrowded, especially when the fog rolls into the park in the late afternoon. Experienced Bay Area residents know that even on sunny days it was wise to bring one’s jacket if one stayed until closing. At dusk the setting is quiet, and that’s why the escaped-tiger incident on Christmas Day is incongruous and distressing to those of us who know and love the zoo.
The large cat exhibit has been the center of media attention since the Siberian tiger named Tatiana killed one man, injured two others and was itself killed by police. While the zoo could have strengthened (and is now strengthening) safety by raising the height of the enclosure walls, we never felt any danger from the cats. When we were lucky enough to see them out of their dens, they were usually lying down with their eyes closed. After a couple of minutes of gazing at a sleeping lion, the boys would grow bored and want to move on to the snake and insect displays.
Internet commenters were quick to blame the injured men for the Christmas Day tragedy, saying that they taunted and threw things at the tiger. But there have been too many well-publicized pilings-on where the initial take was completely wrong, and discretion called for letting the investigation take its course. (It’s also easy to rush to judgment when the victims are members of a cohort---young men of South Asian ancestry---whom we are ready to believe could have acted this way.)
Nearly two weeks after the incident, here is some of what we know about the injured Dhaliwal brothers.
An empty vodka bottle was found in their car.And now, the latest observation by way of the early responders: “Don't tell them what we did," paramedics heard 23-year-old Kulbir Dhaliwal tell his brother, Paul, 19.”
The younger brother was intoxicated at the time of the incident, having used marijuana and consumed enough liquor to have a blood-alcohol level above the .08 limit for adult drivers. The older brother also had been drinking and using marijuana.
The Dhaliwals have hired celebrity attorney Mark Geragos to represent them and have refused to allow their cellphones to be examined by police.
Jennifer Miller, who was at the zoo with her husband and two children that ill-fated Christmas afternoon, said she saw four young men at the big-cat grottos - and three of them were teasing the lions a short time before the tiger's bloody rampage that killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. [Who was the fourth man, and did the group then transfer its attention to the tigers?]
Yes, the zoo should have done a better job protecting the patrons, but if it were up to me these guys wouldn’t get a cent. Any award ought to go to the family of Carlos Sousa, who by all reports wasn’t party to the provocation and died trying to protect his friends. Now there’s a case I could get behind.
© 2008 Stephen Yuen