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S.F. Zoo has 2 more incidents involving dangerous animals

A snow leopard tries to escape, and darts are used on a polar bear.

January 12, 2008|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Less than three weeks after an escaped tiger killed a teenager at the San Francisco Zoo, two new incidents have surfaced that are bringing fresh attention to the facility's handling of its exhibits.

Zoo officials said Friday that a nearly 100-pound snow leopard ripped a small opening in its wire mesh cage -- which was inside a bigger secured enclosure -- Thursday afternoon and got part of its head and paw through the gash.

A week earlier, zoo employees used darts to goad a cantankerous polar bear into its night enclosure, officials said. The next day, the zoo said it was raising the height of the wall of the polar bear exhibit.

Zoo spokesman Sam Singer said the incidents never posed a safety threat to visitors. He called the leopard incident a "minor breach," and said "the polar bear was not trying to escape or exit the enclosure."

Disclosure of the incidents came less than three weeks after a 250-pound tiger escaped from its pen and mauled three zoo visitors. Zoo officials have said it probably climbed a wall surrounding its enclosure that measured 12 1/2 feet -- 4 feet lower than nationally recommended standards.

Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, was killed in the Dec. 25 attack, and his two friends were severely injured.

Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo said the leopard had been moved out of the feline conservation area so workers could do maintenance there. It was put in one cage that sat in a larger secured enclosure. The leopard was able to rip apart some of the wire mesh of the inner cage and squeeze its paw and a portion of its head out of a 4-inch hole, Mollinedo said.

"At no point was there any danger to the public. This was a double containment area," he said.

Singer said the zookeeper could have been harmed if she had not secured the cage, but the public was never threatened.

"She was able to deal with it and secure the safety of animal and herself," Singer said. If the leopard had escaped, "he would have been in another cage, so he would never have come in contact with the public."

Zoo officials said the polar bear also was never a danger to visitors.

Zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said the incident happened as employees tried to get the polar bear into its night enclosure so they could work on raising the wall around the exhibit.

When the polar bear wouldn't budge, she said, employees pelted it with tranquilizer darts, causing the bear to scurry up fake rocks at the back of the exhibit.

She said it never reached a height that would have allowed it to leave. Singer said employees also used a fire hose.

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