Tatiana , a 4-year-old Siberian tiger fatally attacked one zoo visitor and injured two others at the San Francisco Zoo last Christmas afternoon. She had to be killed by police officers . "She was everything that a tiger is supposed to be," says big-cat expert Ronald Tilson. "She was essentially shot and killed for being a tiger."
Yet , this was not a one-off incident. An year ago, Tatiana mauled her keeper, devouring the flesh from her arm. Should Tatiana have been put down at that time , is what is haunting zoo officials now.
"There was no reason whatsoever," says Tilson, director of conservation at the Minnesota Zoo. Since 1987 , he has been overseeing the tiger species survival plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Louis Dorfman, an animal behaviorist with the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas, supports the idea that Tatiana posed no greater danger than she had before Dec. 22, 2006 . Then, she had reached under the bars of her cage and seized the arms of zoo employee Lori Komejan as dozens of people watched.
"We have 60 cats here," Dorfman says . "Any one of them would have done the same thing. But they would forget about it 15 minutes later. They don't dwell on things. The only thing they dwell on is if someone mistreated them."
Manuel Mollinedo, executive director of the San Francisco Zoo, says :"There was never any consideration for putting her down - the tiger was acting like a normal tiger."
Tatiana was born in the Denver Zoo on June 27, 2003, and donated to San Francisco in December 2005 .
Tilson, who is responsible for the 147 Siberians, or Amurs, that live in more than 60 AZA-accredited zoos in North America, says :"I'm the one who made the recommendation for her to be born in Denver. I'm the one who made a recommendation to send her to San Francisco. I feel personally involved with all of this. To me, it's very disconcerting and very upsetting."
Tilson says he cannot recall a tiger ever getting out of its enclosure and killing a zoo visitor. He adds that Tatiana's behavior, once she escaped, was very much in keeping with her species. "She was an alpha predator in her environment . She was killing mammals and eating meat."
Tilson says any loose zoo animal would want to return to its habitat and would become upset, disoriented, frightened - and potentially dangerous.
"Once the animal is out of its primary enclosure, it's pretty much shoot to kill . You don't have a discussion - you kill it. A tranquilizer gun would take too long and you might miss", he says.
Dorfman described the Christmas carnage as extraordinarily rare.
"Anything they perceive as a danger they're going to strike at," he notes. "That's their instinct. If everyone would stand perfectly still and not make any movement, the cat wouldn't hurt anybody."
Tilson says the AZA's accreditation committee will now look at how the big cats are housed at the San Francisco Zoo.
It is recommended that a tiger moat should be a minimum of 7 meters (almost 23 feet) wide at the top and a minimum of 5 meters high (16.4 feet) on the visitors' side, with a fence at least 5 meters high.
Mollinedo, who took over in early 2004, says that he asked staff members after the Christmas attack whether any big cat had ever jumped the moat or escaped the grotto, and no one could recall anything like that happening.