Chicago area zoos check safety at tiger enclosures

January 1, 2008 12:42:25 PM PST
In the wake of the Christmas Day tiger escape at the San Francisco Zoo that left one person dead and two others injured, zookeepers at Chicago-area facilities have reviewed security around large animal enclosures.At the city's Lincoln Park Zoo -- home to two Siberian tigers -- workers have deepened the tigers' moat by removing several inches of dirt and shrubbery. Officials at suburban Brookfield Zoo have remeasured exhibit areas.

"Any time there's an accident like this in an accredited facility, it hits home. We have sympathy for the staff and certainly the people involved in the accident," said Robyn Barbiers, a vice president at Lincoln Park Zoo. "We reviewed our measurements. Mainly because we thought someone might ask."

On Dec. 25, a 350-pound Siberian tiger escaped from its enclosure in the San Francisco Zoo, killing 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and seriously injuring his friends Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23. The tiger reportedly climbed over the wall of its enclosure, which was 12 1/2 feet high, about 4 feet below the recommended minimum for U.S. zoos.

Both Brookfield and Lincoln Park meet or exceed minimums recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoos.

Tigers at the Lincoln Park Zoo are kept 10 to 12 feet above a 24-foot-wide moat. Visitors stand about 15 feet above the moat and are kept behind a fence and bushes, according to Barbiers. She said tigers in the moat can't see if people are standing there.

The moat is now slightly deeper since workers shoveled away dirt and plants originally put in to make it look more natural, Barbiers said.

At suburban Brookfield Zoo, tigers are kept nearly 16 feet above a 23-foot-wide moat. Visitors stand more than 20 feet above the moat, according to Brookfield spokeswoman Kim Smith.

"Our tiger exhibit is quite safe," Smith said. "We went back in and remeasured everything ... so we would know exactly, because we felt that was prudent."