Special Report Filed by an AAF Correspondent

from The Chicago Tribune


Animal Attack

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Idaho Cat was Bred in Chicago

By Heather Vogell
Tribune Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 16, 2000

A Siberian tiger raised in Lincoln Park Zoo attacked and mauled a woman during a tour in the Boise, Idaho, zoo last week, but will not be euthanized, a Boise zoo official said Tuesday.Taiga, a 600-pound rare Siberian tiger, came through an unlocked gate and mauled Jan Gold, 41, who was taking a behind-the-scenes tour during Zoo Boise's fundraiser, "Feast for the Beast."

The attack ended when a police officer at the benefit fired three shots, scaring the animal. One of the shots ricocheted and struck the woman in the thigh.

Jim Dumont, recreation superintendent for the Boise Parks and Recreation Department, said Tuesday that the zoo blames the attack on human error, not on Taiga, who was born in Lincoln Park Zoo in 1997. Taiga and his brother Tundra have been in Boise since October.

"As far as we're concerned, we are not recommending to put the tiger down and don't plan to do anything but make sure the tiger is able to make it through the stress," he said.

Experts said Taiga was just being a tiger when he jumped on Gold, who suffered lacerations to the back of the head, neck and shoulder and the bullet wound. She was in serious but stable condition Tuesday in Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Since the attack, tiger sympathizers from across the country--including one of Taiga's former zookeepers in Chicago--have called Zoo Boise concerned about the tiger's fate, Dumont said.

"They are the two finest exhibition animals we have in the zoo," he said. "The city of Boise has fallen in love with these tigers."

Attendance at the park has increased 25 percent since Taiga and Tundra arrived, he said.

Taiga's parents were mated at the Lincoln Park Zoo as part of an effort to bolster the population of the endangered tiger species, whose natural home is the Amur region in east Asia. Only about 250 remain in the wild.

When Taiga and Tundra--then named Ben and Casey--neared their second birthday, the zoo began to think about sending them to another zoo because it was running out of room, said Mary Ann Schultz, spokeswoman for the Lincoln Park Zoo. The tigers' sister and mother remain at the park.

After two independent inspectors visited Zoo Boise to make sure it could handle the tigers, they were transferred. Dumont and Schultz said neither animal has ever been a problem.

Shortly after 9 p.m. last Friday, 16 Zoo Boise supporters entered the tiger house to watch the animals being lured with food from a grassy outdoor recreation area back into their cages when the attack occurred, said Lt. Jim Tibbs, spokesman for the Boise Police Department.

Hearing screams, Police Sgt. Rich Schnebly, who had attended the benefit as part of a community policing program, pushed through the crowd and into building, where he found Gold with the tiger on top of her.

Fearing he would hit Gold, Schnebly fired two rounds from his .45-caliber pistol over the tiger's head. Taiga retreated to his cage, but when Schnebly and zoo manager David Wayne moved forward to help Gold, Taiga approached again. Schnebly fired another shot and the animal backed off long enough to close the cage door.

Gold, a board member of the Friends of Zoo Boise, suffered a broken leg from a bullet that ricocheted off the wall and severe lacerations to the back of the head, Tibbs said.

Dumont said local and state police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which ensures that zoo animals are properly cared for, are investigating to determine how the gate was left unlocked.

The zoo is waiting to hear their findings, and also hopes to speak again with the Lincoln Park Zoo, but it is inclined to leave Taiga alone, Dumont said. The facility has already begun upgrading the tiger cages so the doors lock automatically.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Gold was not well enough to be interviewed by investigators, Tibbs said.

Ronald Tilson, director of conservation at the Minnesota Zoo and coordinator for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species Survival Plan, said anything from fright to excitement to hunger could have motivated the attack.

"It's awful hard to get inside the head of a tiger and think what he's thinking," he said. "The tiger is a dangerous animal because it's wild, and one should never be in the presence of a tiger without having bars or glass between you and it."

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