San Francisco Zoo’s Director Manuel Mollinedo Brings Bad Luck With Him
UPDATED 01/01/08 (see below)
The bizarre and horrifying Christmas day story of Tatiana, the 350 pound Siberian tiger, that escaped from her cage at the San Francisco Zoo, tragically killing 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and badly mauling two brothers Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, gets weirder and weirder.
The weirdness I’m speaking of is about the Zoo’s Director, Manuel Mollinedo, who with each news conference keeps back peddling on the facts.
I watched his first press conference on Wednesday where he said that the tiger enclosure had a wall that was 18 feet high and a 20 foot wide dry moat. Today he corrected himself saying the wall around the animal’s pen was just 12 1/2 feet high and the moat was 33 feet across.
The American Zoological Assn. recommends a height of at least 16 feet — a 14-foot wall or fence, plus a 2-foot ledge pointed into the enclosure at a 45-degree angle. The S.F Zoo’s Tiger Grotto does not even come close to these recommendations.
At the Bronx Zoo, the tigers are surrounded by a 20-foot-high chain- link fence with a 5-foot overhang that curls inward at the top. An electrified wire runs along the inside of the fence.
The Philadelphia Zoo said it has 16-foot walls topped with a 3-foot overhang. At the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, Va., the walls are 15 to 20 feet high with a 5-foot overhang and an electrified wire. At the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz., the wire fence is about 17 feet.
Mollinedo is also blaming the victims for the Tiger’s escape — alleging that they were taunting Tatiana. Maybe they did — but the tiger enclosure should have been secure enough to prevent the escape from happening.
I’m calling this the “Mollinedo Curse” as this was not the first incident with Tatiana. On Dec. 22, 2006, Tatiana reached through the bars of her cage and grabbed a keeper, Lori Komejan, biting and mauling one of the woman’s arms and causing deep lacerations. Lori is currently suing for 8 million dollars in damages.
Manuel Mollinedo was in his first year as the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo when Calle an Asian elephant trampled a keeper to death in 1996. Manuel had the elephant moved form L.A, ironically to the San Francisco Zoo.
In June of 2001 San Francisco Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein was having an “inside tour” of the L.A. Zoo when attacked inside the cage of a Komodo dragon. Bronstein was shoeless at the time of the attack, he told The Chronicle. He had been wearing white tennis shoes but because the dragon is fed white rats, the zookeeper suggested Bronstein remove his shoes so the dragon didn’t mistake them for its next meal. The dragon, clamped down on Bronstein’s bare foot resulting in severed tendons and a crushed big toe.
Mollinedo was hired for the $200,000 a year position as the Director of the San Francisco Zoo in 2004. Barely six weeks on the job and his past with Calle the Asian elephant caught up with him.
“It is ironic,” said Mollinedo, referring to the uproar over his decision to euthanize Calle. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever end up at the San Francisco Zoo and see Calle again — but here she was, … It became a quality-of-life issue.”
Animal Activists had been fighting to have Calle moved to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee days before she was euthanized.
A little over a month later, in April 2004, Maybelle, a 43-year-old female 10,000-pound African elephant died after receiving pain medication. Shortly after this second death, the remaining two elephants were transferred to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors should immediately conduct a thorough examination of Mr. Mollinedo’s ability to run any Zoo safely. Perhaps it is time to transfer Manuel Mollinedo back to his previous job as general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.
“I had aspired to it throughout my professional career,” said Mollinedo, whose background is recreation rather than zoology or veterinary medicine.
Update: According to ABC News, High Powered Attorney Mark Geragos has been hired by the Dhaliwal brothers to represent them in anticipation of filing a lawsuit against the zoo. Here is the link to the ABC News Story: Tiger Attacked Brothers Hire Legal Pit Bull.
Updated: 1532PT 01/01/08
Posted: 2325PT 12/27/07