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Zoo Safety in Light of Fatal Incident

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Zoo Safety in Light of Fatal Incident


Zoo Safety in Light of Fatal Incident

Zoo Safety in Light of Fatal Incident

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Zookeeper Ed Hansen discusses how to prevent future maulings, after the fatal incident at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Late Christmas afternoon in San Francisco at the city zoo, a tiger escaped its enclosure, attacked a visitor and killed him. The 300-pound Siberian tiger also mauled two other men. Then, four San Francisco police officers, searching for the tiger, found it outside a zoo cafe. And when it charged them, they shot and killed it. A police spokesperson described the scene for reporters.

Unidentified Man: As the officers moved even closer, the tiger focused its attention on the officers. It started coming toward the officers. That's when the officers fired.

COHEN: Last year, that same tiger, Tatiana, reached through her cage's bars and injured a female zookeeper.

We're joined now by Ed Hansen, executive director of the American Association of Zookeepers. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ED HANSEN (Executive Director, American Association of Zookeepers): Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

COHEN: What sort of standards do zoos have to make sure that animals stay in their enclosures and can't cause any harm?

Mr. HANSEN: Well, they have a network of accredited zoos across the country. There's no real set of standards that a moat must be so wide or a fence must be so tall. So they go into their network and interact with different zoos and see what barriers are the best, what distances are the best. And from my experience again with tigers in captivity, those barrier heights, those barrier widths are within the parameters for Sumatran or Siberian tigers.

COHEN: What sort of training do zookeepers have to respond to a situation like this when an animal gets out?

Mr. HANSEN: Well, animal keepers in accredited facilities are going to get crisis management training. When animals escape, there'll be immediate contact with the crisis team which will start to assemble a response. Now whether that response is veterinary response to anesthetize the animal or a stronger response to put the animal down - it depends upon circumstances. And keepers should be trained to basically react by instinct because every decision obviously is critical, and you're only going to get to make a few of those decisions to try and control that or divert that situation.

COHEN: There has been quite a few incidents over the past few years at zoos, with animals escaping and doing harm. Earlier this year, at the Denver Zoo, a zookeeper was fatally attacked by a jaguar. After all these incidents, do you find that zookeepers are thinking twice about their job?

Mr. HANSEN: Oh, I don't think so at all. Keepers - animal keepers have a passion for their animals. They have a passion for the profession. And I do not believe there would be any second thoughts about the profession at all. But I do think that there's going to be a lot of thought put into the safety aspect of the job and whether it be zoo-keeping or construction or whatever, sometimes we push safety to the back of our minds and concentrating on what we would call the exciting aspects of the job. So I do think in zoos across the country, safety has to be moved to more of a forefront and training has to be moved to more of a forefront.

COHEN: There are a lot of people who have been calling for more humane treatment of animals at zoos. And a lot of them has said can you get rid of the old-school cages and put them in these more, you know, open habitats. But are those habitats may be a bit more dangerous in terms of the potential for escape?

Mr. HANSEN: Anytime you build an exhibit for the viewing pleasure of the public or for the comfort of the animals, you have to be very cognizant of their nature, and their leaping abilities, their climbing abilities and making sure that the barriers are going to contain that animal. So it is a true art to building exhibits that are pleasant to look at but safe for the containment aspect of the animal.

COHEN: Ed Hanson is the executive director of the American Association of Zookeepers. He spoke with us from Tucson, Arizona. Thank you so much.

Mr. HANSEN: Thank you very much.

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