SF Zoo safety improvements complete

February 18, 2008 9:51:22 PM PST
It should be all but impossible for a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo to ever jump out of its enclosure again. Safety improvements are finished after the fatal Christmas night attack that killed a teenage visitor.

The lions and tigers got their first glimpse yesterday of the newly renovated grottos. They have been cooped up in the lion house since the fatal Christmas mauling by Tatiana the tiger.

Workers have now raised the walls of the cat exhibits and built glass barriers with electrified wires. The new height of the enclosures is now 19 feet, two and a half feet taller than the nationally recommended standard.

Some visitors were able to see the big cats from a glass partition at one of the four grottos. Many were still a bit unsettled by what happened Christmas Day.

"It's a little scary at first to see them but it was nice," says Sarah Betteridge, zoo visitor.

Once the big cats get acclimated to their new surroundings, zoo officials will open up all of the grottos to the public. Right now, they're being monitored to see if they're adjusting.

"Their behavior, their appetites their energy level, that all that is normal, indicating that they're comfortable and relaxed," says Jacqueline Jencek, Zoo Veterinary Services.

While we were there, Tony the Siberian tiger was cautiously checking out his newly renovated digs.

"Tony is still circulating through the perimeter, checking spots, nice and slow," says Robert Jenkins, San Francisco Zoo Animal Care Director.

While they've been stuck inside the lion house for over a month, zoo workers have tried to stimulate them with toys. Among them hay filled with different smells.

"Oddly enough, they tend to like cheap perfume the best. They also liked watching TV. All four lions were watching 'Lion King'. They seemed to be enjoying it. They watched the whole movie as a matter of fact," says Jenkins.

The zoo still has not decided when they'll allow the public to view the feeding of the cats inside the lion house. That too was stopped following the attack.

Animal activist Elliot Katz tells ABC7 that the zoo should discontinue that public viewing because that's the only time the animals can be away from people.

"The feeding should be private. The animals should be going at his or her own pace and not to be there for young kids and everyone to be gawking at them," says Kats.

The zoo says that the feeding of the tiger exhibit will remain open because it is a longtime zoo tradition and that the big cats are getting accustomed very quickly to their new grottos. All of them may be available for viewing as soon as next week.