Friday, December 28, 2007

Tiger attack: more than meets the eye

The situation at the San Francisco Zoo had me baffled. The very idea that a tiger escaped and attacked three individuals was shocking. More so since I’ve been to the zoo on several occasions.

First accounts made it sound as if the tiger had escaped and attacked one young man and then in separate incident attacked two men at an outdoor cafe. But the more information that comes out the more I suspect that the victims were not so innocent. Make no mistake about it, I think the city zoo was very responsible for what happened. The evidence is now clear that the wall on the tiger enclosure was well below the standard height required. But I also suspect, and can’t prove, that the victims were also responsible for the attacks as well.

The two attacks apparently were continuations of the same attack. The three victims were actually good friends who had gone to the zoo together. We know the tiger attacked and that two of the young men had some sort of go at the tiger which then released the one man and attacked the other two, killing one of them. Police arrived and killed the tiger in return.

I figured that much of the mystery would be cleared up when the two young men told their side of the story. Apparently they are not co-operating and openly hostile to police investigating the matter. That strikes me as very odd indeed. If these three young men were fully innocent victims the city of San Francisco (and unfortunately the taxpayers) will be paying them hefty settlements. A police investigation ought to help them. And it would unless they were not fully innocent as originally thought.

That the three went there together made me wonder. But the refusal to co-operate looks very odd. And police say there is the imprint of a shoe on the railing on top of the wall. Tiger keepers say that if the animal was taunted it would attack. I feel, not believe but feel, that there may well be more to this case than we know. And I suspect more revelations will be coming.

Perhaps the three young male friends decided to have fun with the tiger. Perhaps they were feeling unusually macho and arrogant the way many young men of that age do. And perhaps they decided to torment the animal which retaliated and managed to get out.

There is also the strange situation of where the father of the dead man had called the two brothers who survived, shortly before the attacked and asked if they knew where his son might be. The two brothers lied to the father and said they had not seen the man in spite of him being with them at the time. The zoo closes at 5:00. Why were they still in the zoo?

And consider the layout of the zoo. Directly south of the tiger enclosure is the South Gate, the fastest way out of the zoo and the most likely location to find staff quickly to help in an emergency. The men were attacked due west of the enclosure moving away from the exit to the zoo. The zoo closes every day at 5 p.m. and the attack took place shortly after that time. So you now a mostly deserted zoo, where most people have either left or headed toward the gate to leave. If you wanted to have some fun with a tiger this is about the only time you could try.

And one tiger expert who had been quoted to say that the tiger couldn’t have jumped out on his own says that he revised that position when the actual height of the wall was revealed to be just over 12 feet and not the 20 feet he was originally told. But he also said that while a leap that high was possible it is very unlikely for a tiger to do that without provocation.

If I were an investigator here I would explore two possibilities. One is that the tiger merely attacked for no reason whatsoever, that for the first time he attempted to escape that wall in a move experts say would be usual. And that it attacked three totally innocent young men who just happened to be in the zoo after it closed because they were slow in leaving. I would consider it but it wouldn’t be where I’d be focusing my attention.

Here is the theory I would look at. That three young men, feeling macho, with a bit of a history for causing trouble, went to the zoo. They were up to no good and one indication of that is that they lied to the father of one of the young men telling him that his son was not there. Maybe they saw the tiger and realized that they had an opportunity to prove something to themselves about their macho nature and they decided to show the tiger who was boss. For some reason one of the youths stood on the railing (the shoe imprint found there would support that). They maybe taunted the tiger or harassed it. They felt confident that the wall would hold the tiger had it done for decades. But they were wrong.

The two young men are not co-operating and hostile with a reason. They may believe that if the truth is known that the tiger was being harassed by them that the result could lead to charges being filed against them. Their lack of co-operation is the result of their status as perpetrators and not as victims. Of the two theories I find the second the most appealing at this time.

I just can’t help but think how would I react if I were the victim here. I would co-operate. And even if I had some reason to mistrust the police (and there are many) I would be spilling my guts on every news program that would have me. I would want the world to know that the zoo allowed something awful to happen to me. The only reason I can think of, where I remain uncooperative and silent is if I knew the attack was actually my fault. And this would be especially true if my actions contributed to the death of a third person.

I will be interested to see how this plays itself out and what evidence turns up. I will be interested to see what we learn about these two young men. Certainly I would expect them to be hiring an attorney who will, no doubt, advise them to go public with a story meant to make a civil suit on their behalf easier to win. Please note that these are just my gut reactions to what I’ve seen. I’m not saying that there is concrete evidence to say this is factual. But I am saying that there are damn good reasons to hold these suspicions and I hope the investigators look into them.

None of this completely exonerates the zoo, after all the wall was obviously much lower than accepted norms for such a thing. But if my theory is correct I wouldn’t be giving these young men compensation and I would certainly be looking at filing charges against them if they played any role in encouraging the attack to take place.