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SF Zoo tiger attack tapes released

Authorities have released the emergency tapes of the deadly tiger attack at the SF Zoo.
I-Team report
January 15, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Authorities released emergency recordings Tuesday from the incident that has drawn negative attention to the San Francisco Zoo from around the world.

The recordings paint a clear picture of the chaos in the minutes after the tiger escaped her enclosure. They also raise new questions about the zoo's response to the fatal attack.

A zoo employee made the first call to San Francisco 911 right after Tatiana, the Siberian tiger, escaped from her grotto, mortally wounding 17-year-old Carlos Sousa, Jr. of San Jose.

911 zoo employee call:

"Hello, yes, I'm going to need an ambulance to come at the zoo to the south gate."

However, he is short on details. It's clear that the caller and other zoo employees heard in the background don't believe what Kulbir Dhaliwal is telling them -- that he and his brother, Paul, have been attacked by a tiger, and their friend, Carlos Sousa, needs help.

911 zoo employee call:

"I don't know if they're on drugs or what, they're screaming about an animal that has attacked them, but there's no animal out. He's talking about a third person, and I don't see a third person."

The lawyer for the Sousa family says crucial time was lost because of the zoo staff's bad judgment.

"If people are telling you there is a tiger attack, don't look behind what they're telling you, investigate quickly, get the police out there, get ambulance out there and find out that way if there is something going on," says Sousa family attorney, Michael Cardoza.

More than six minutes go by until zoo employees realize Dhaliwal is telling the truth.

911 zoo employee call:

"Alan, I got a tiger out, code one."


"By Nyala picnic place, code one. Troopers stay put."

"What kind of animal?"

"Hello, hello? We have a code one, said they have a tiger out."


Police and fire units rushed to the scene, but the zoo's security kept them out for at least five minutes.

SF fire radio:

"Be advised, we're on the scene here at the zoo. We had attendants saying they're under a code one, basically meaning they can't let anybody in because the tiger is loose. We can't get to this person who is bit yet."

"I would think the police would be relatively safe in a patrol vehicle. I think the ambulance people would be safe if they were in an ambulance," says Cardoza.

Cardoza is struck by how coherent Kulbir Dhaliwal sounds on his call to 911, despite claims he had been drinking or smoking marijuana.

Kulbir Dhaliwal 911 call:

Dhaliwal: "Can you call the cops already, too?"

Dispatcher: "The cops are already on the way."

Dhaliwal: "Okay. I don't see anybody here, it's been 10 minutes. I have not seen--"

Dispatcher: "Okay, I understand that, alright?"

He tries to get a manager at the Terrrace Cafe to give him towels to stop the bleeding from his brother's head.

Kulbir Dhaliwal 911 call:

Dhaliwal: "Give me some towels, man. You know, what's wrong with these people?"

Dispatcher: "Okay, do you have a dry, clean cloth or towel?"

Dhaliwal: "Yeah, he had some towels laying out, but the stupid man here does not know what the hell I'm talking about."

Further, the zoo employees did not allow the Dhaliwal brothers to enter the cafe, out of harm's way.

The zoo's spokespeople and its newly-hired crisis management team refused to comment today,

However, a retired 32-year SFPD veteran, head of the SWAT team for several years, defends the employees not letting the brothers in.

"If he thought they were crazy or drunk, he was thinking, 'Why am I going to let these crazy people into my cafe? I've got other customers, I'm trying to close up,'" says Rich Cairns, a former SFPD captain.

About 23 minutes after the initial 911 call, police come upon Tatiana attacking the brothers again. They yell "blue on blue" -- a warning for the officers not to shoot each other.

SF police radio:

"At Terrace Cafe. We have the, we have the tiger. Blue on blue. Blue on blue. We have the tiger attacking a victim. Blue on blue."

The gunfire is picked up by fire department radios.

SF fire radio:

"We have visual eyes on the tiger. He was attacking (bang) somebody else. Stand-by. (bang, bang, bang)... Shots fired. Everyone stand (bang, bang) stand back, stand back."

Police make the call, the crisis is over. The tiger is down.

SF police radio:

"Ida 35 stop shooting. Okay, the cat. We have the cat. We shot the cat, here at ah, at ah Herbst Cafe. The victim is being attended to. We're going to need a lieutenant or a sergeant down here."

However, the confusion continued. The zoo told police four other big cats may be on the loose. They weren't. It took them 20 minutes to conclude they were safe.

Police Chief Heather Fong and her spokesmen also declined to be interviewed today. They said "the tapes speak for themselves."

For more on this story, read the I-Team blog here.

There is a lot to listen to on these tapes, and you can listen to them for yourself at the links below:

911 calls

SFPD calls

SFFD calls

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