SAN FRANCISCO — A tiger escaped from its enclosure in the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day, mauled one man to death and left two others seriously injured. The tiger was shot and killed by police after it charged officers.
A police spokesperson said the zoo was evacuated after the incident, which occurred late in the afternoon near the Terrace Cafe at the east end of the zoo. The zoo was being searched for other possible victims Tuesday evening, even though there were no missing person reports. Police helicopters circled the area with searchlights as ambulances stood by.
Police set up a perimeter around the zoo and searched on foot for other possible victims.
Initially, officials believed that up to four tigers in the same enclosure may have escaped, but only one actually left its pen, said San Francisco Fire Department Lt. Mindy Talmadge.
Officials said that the same tiger, a Siberian named Tatiana, had mauled a zookeeper in front of horrified visitors about a year ago. Visitors then told zoo officials that the female tiger grabbed the keeper’s hands in its claws and was pulling her. A second keeper freed the employee from the tiger’s grip. The almost-daily public feedings were suspended.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Lora LaMarca, the director of marketing and public relations for the zoo, said at the time.
The tiger was kept in a grotto with a moat 20 feet deep and 15 to 18 feet across, surrounded by a 20-foot wall. Officials could not immediately say how the animal escaped, nor do they know precisely how long it was out of its enclosure.
At a little after 5 p.m. Tuesday, when there were as few as 20 visitors at the zoo, police received a report of a tiger on the loose, said Police Sgt. Steve Mannina. Four officers responded and soon encountered a zoo employee in a golf cart who said there was a wounded patron in front of the tiger grotto. That man died of his injuries, Mannina said.
Police then started to search for the tiger, finding it at the zoo’s Terrace Cafe, about 300 yards from the tiger enclosure, where they encountered a visitor with blood on his face. They approached with their emergency lights on.
“The tiger sees them, then goes back on the victim and continues to maul the victim,” Mannina said.
“Then the tiger charges the police officers and four fired,” killing the animal.
The victims, who were in their 20s, were not zoo employees. No other details about their identities were immediately available.
Mayor Gavin Newsom was “deeply saddened” about the incident, said his spokesman, Nathan Ballard. “A thorough investigation is being undertaken to uncover all the facts and to understand how this tragedy could have occurred,” Ballard said.
The zoo entrance was blocked Tuesday evening near San Francisco’s Great Highway and adjacent to Ocean Beach and the densely populated Sunset District.
The two injured men were being treated at San Francisco General Hospital, where the nursing supervisor said they were in serious but stable condition. Officials said the zoo will be closed today out of respect for the victims. It is typically open every day of the year.
Times staff writer Charles Ornstein contributed to this report.