Friday, December 22, 2006

Tiger mauls zoo trainer

Paramedics take a San Francisco Zoo employee to an ambulance Friday after she was attacked by a tiger. The trainer could lose an arm, an official said.

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A 350-pound Siberian tiger attacked and injured its trainer shortly after a public feeding Friday at the San Francisco Zoo.

The unidentified woman may lose an arm as a result of her injuries, and was in surgery Friday at San Francisco General Hospital with injuries to both arms, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.

"My understanding is the injuries are not life-threatening, but perhaps limb-threatening," Hayes-White said.

The 3-year-old female tiger, Tatiana, reached through the iron bars of her enclosure and grabbed the trainer with both front paws shortly after 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET), zoo officials said.

At least 50 visitors were at the zoo's big cat exhibit, called the Lion House, when the tiger attacked, said Robert Jenkins, director of animal care and conservation at the zoo. They were quickly evacuated after the incident.

The trainer has been an animal keeper at the zoo since 1997. Her main job is taking care of the zoo's four lions and three tigers, Jenkins said.

"No matter how familiar you get with these animals, they're still wild animals," Jenkins said. "You have to have a healthy respect for them and be aware of what can happen."

The zoo houses two types of tigers, Sumatran and Siberian. The tigers are fed fortified horse meat at the Lion House facility. The Sumatran tigers can weigh up to 350 pounds, while the Siberian males can weigh up to 600 pounds.

The indoor portion of the Lion House will remain closed pending an investigation of the attack, Jenkins said. Visitors will still be able to view the zoo's lions and tigers, including Tatiana, in the outdoor portion of the exhibit.

Tatiana arrived at the San Francisco Zoo from the Denver Zoo more than a year ago. There were no previous incidents of aggression against humans involving the tiger, said Ana Bowie, a Denver Zoo spokeswoman.

The mauling was the first tiger attack on a human at San Francisco Zoo, Jenkins said.

The zoo conducts tiger feedings six days a week, a popular attraction for hordes of children, parents and nannies who visit daily.

According to its Web site, San Francisco Zoo is one of the only zoos in the United States where visitors can see big cat feedings.

Another big cat caused a scare at the other end of the country early Friday when a worker at the National Zoo in Washington discovered a clouded leopard was missing from its enclosure.

The zoo was cordoned off while a search was conducted. The leopard was found sleeping near its enclosure after about 35 minutes. It was anesthetized and returned safely to its enclosure.