THE Christmas killing of one and mauling of two by a tiger could prove costly for the San Francisco Zoo in the US.
The zoo might face heavy fines, be stripped of its exhibitor licence and lose its accreditation. It could also be hit with a huge lawsuit by the victims or their families and might face criminal charges, depending on what the investigation finds.
It has been under fire for some time for the deaths of two elephants and the mauling of a zookeeper in previous incidents.
On Tuesday Tantiana killed Carlos Sousa, 17, and mauled his friends Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, creating nationwide sensation.
The first attack happened right outside the Siberian's enclosure - the victim died at the scene. A group of four officers came across his body when they entered the dark zoo grounds, police spokesman Steve Mannina said.
The second victim was about 300 yards away, in front of the Terrace Cafe. The man was sitting on the ground, blood running from gashes in his head and Tatiana sitting next to him.
The cat attacked the man again, Mannina said. The officers approached the tiger with their handguns. Tatiana moved in their direction and several of the officers fired, killing the animal.
Only then did they see the third victim, who had also been mauled.
It had apparently climbed over a wall that, at just under four metres tall, was more than a metre below the US recommended minimum for zoos, it is said.
But San Francisco Zoo director Manuel Mollinedo said the Association of Zoos and Aquariums never noted any deficiencies in the wall around the tiger enclosure.
The two injured men were listed in stable condition at San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. John Brown, an emergency room physician, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday they suffered deep bites and claw cuts to their heads, necks, arms and hands.
"These injuries are severe injuries, but they are very treatable, and these two gentlemen seem to be in good health, so I think they have a good chance," Brown said.
"This is a tragic event for San Francisco," Fire Department spokesman Lt. Ken Smith said. "We pride ourselves in our zoo, and we pride ourselves in tourists coming and looking at our city."
There are five tigers at the zoo - three Sumatrans and two Siberians. Officials initially worried that four tigers had escaped, but soon learned only Tatiana had escaped, Mannina said.
On Dec. 22, 2006, Tatiana reached through the cage's iron bars and grabbed a keeper, biting and mauling one of her arms and causing deep lacerations. The zoo's Lion House was temporarily closed during an investigation.
California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health blamed the zoo for the assault and imposed a $18,000 penalty. A medical claim filed against the city by the keeper was denied.
Last February, a 140-pound jaguar named Jorge killed a zookeeper at the Denver Zoo before being fatally shot. Zoo officials said later that the zookeeper had violated rules by opening the door to the animal's cage.
Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement he was deeply saddened by the latest attack and that a thorough investigation was under way.
After last year's attack, the zoo added customized steel mesh over the bars, built in a feeding shoot and increased the distance between the public and the cats.
Tatiana arrived at the San Francisco Zoo from the Denver Zoo a few years ago, with zoo officials hoping she would mate with a male tiger. Siberian tigers are classified as endangered and there are more than 600 of the animals living in captivity worldwide.