Tatiana was a part of an endangered species. Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, was just starting out in life. They died Christmas Day in an encounter at the San Francisco Zoo that shouldn't have happened.
For some reason, Tatiana, a 4-year-old Siberian tiger, escaped from her enclosure and attacked Sousa and two of his friends. Sousa died from injuries, and the two other men were treated at a hospital for injuries then released. Police responding to the situation fatally shot Tatiana.
The zoo, usually open 365 days a years, closed until Thursday, when it reopened with a public alert system and cautionary signs; the big-cat exhibit is shuttered pending a review. The injured men have hired an attorney; law-enforcement authorities continue an investigation.
"All I know is that something happened to provoke that tiger to leap out of her exhibit," zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo said after the encounter.
Zoo officials said the enclosure had a 121/2-foot wall _ 4 feet shorter than the recommended minimum height for U.S. zoos. The city has hired an architect to design a pen that would put a 19-foot-tall barrier between visitors and the big cats.
The San Francisco Zoo is home to more than 250 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates, according to its website.
``This incident runs counter to everything that the Zoo stands for,'' zoo officials said. ``The safety of our visitors, staff and our animals has always been our highest priority and will continue to be as we move forward. Many questions remain about the circumstances surrounding this terrible event and we are committed to finding all of the answers. This incident, while tragic, is rare and isolated.''
Siberian tigers, the world's largest cats, are an endangered species. There are an estimated 400 to 500 Siberian tigers living in the wild, primarily in eastern Russia's birch forests.
Tatiana was born in captivity but remained a wild animal with instincts and reactions that humans cannot control or predict. Tatiana had attacked a zookeeper during feeding time in December 2006.
The fact that the two recently injured men wouldn't cooperate with authorities casts suspicions on their behavior, though their attorney has said accusations of taunting are ``nonsense.''
We consider zoos an important resource for teaching about wildlife and developing programs to preserve species. There is room for zoos to improve living habitats to enhance the animals' lives and to protect them and humans from mutually dangerous contact.
The San Francisco Zoo is responsible for the safety of not only the animals in its care but also the humans who visit the premises, and it is taking appropriate steps to improve its facility and account for reasons Tatiana escaped.
However, zoo visitors must be considerate guests and follow some basic rules: Don't feed the animals. Don't hang on the fencing of an enclosure. Keep your hands to yourself. Don't taunt the animals.
We hope the deadly encounter renews the vigilance of zoos to create safe enclosures. Also, such an incident shouldn't scare us away from visiting zoos but should remind us to respect animals and their wild origins.