Zoo officials ensure tiger attack couldn’t happen

By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico

Hillcrest Park Zoo director Herschel Arnold doubts an incident similar to a deadly tiger attack Tuesday at a San Francisco zoo could happen in Clovis.

Hillcrest is home to Blondie, a 450-pound Siberian tiger rescued from an Oklahoma exotic animal operation two years ago. The tiger involved in the San Francisco attack that killed one visitor and injured two others was the same breed.

Herschel believes adherence to strict protocol while handling the animal and a 20-foot high fence electrified at the top are safeguards in place to prevent an escape. He also said the animal has not displayed aggressive actions toward humans.

Zookeeper Mike Burns said the tiger has not tried to escape his pen and to his knowledge no animal has ever escaped at the zoo.

“It’s just kind of mind-boggling to me,” Arnold said, referring to Tuesday’s deadly attack.
The tiger in San Francisco escaped from an enclosure that was surrounded by a 15-foot-wide moat and 20-foot-high walls. San Francisco Zoo officials said they are not sure how the 300-pound tiger escaped from her exhibit.

Herschel said Blondie is fed through a small opening in his pen and is unable to even put a paw through the chain link fence that surrounds his day pen.

“The way it is now, it’s physically impossible for him to hurt anybody as long as everything is working properly,” Arnold said.

Herschel said the city and the zoo generated a contingency plan to deal with animals that might escape from their pens for a hypothetical scenario posed by the Local Emergency Management Committee in which a tornado plows through the zoo and destroys the animal cages.

He said the plan involves tranquilizer guns and moving the animals to the city’s animal shelter. If Blondie did escape from his pen, Herschel said the zoo has a public announcement system to warn visitors and tranquilizer guns to subdue the animal.

“I can’t see a contingency where it could happen,” Arnold said. “We spend all of our time to make sure it cannot happen.”

Arnold also believes even if Blondie did escape, he is not a threat to the public because he was raised in captivity.

“I’m not even sure he would be considered seriously dangerous,” he said. “He’s a big house cat, he’d rather be petted and scratched than hurting somebody.”

Arnold said he also doubts other animals at the zoo such as the hyenas and the bears would attack zoo visitors.