Is this America’s most dangerous zoo? Shocking video shows zookeeper being chased by a grizzly bear at same wildlife center where visitor was killed by escaped tiger

Is this America’s most dangerous zoo? Shocking video shows zookeeper being chased by a grizzly bear at same wildlife center where visitor was killed by escaped tiger

The San Francisco Zoo is in danger of being dubbed the most dangerous in America following a string of safety incidents – including a zookeeper being chased by a grizzly bear just last year.

An investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle has exposed multiple serious incidents where employee safety and animal welfare has been compromised at the city-owned 100-acre plot in the southwest corner of the city.

The zoo, which receives $4 million a year in taxpayer money, first hit headlines over a decade ago when a guest was tragically killed by an escaped tiger on Christmas Day in 2007. This was followed by the heartbreaking death of a baby gorilla in 2014.

New surveillance footage has now revealed the moment a zookeeper narrowly escaped death when he was chased around an enclosure by a grizzly bear last may.

There was also the recent undisclosed death of a young penguin who was fatally struck by a ‘guillotine’ door – adding to the toll on morale at the zoo.

The situation has led many workers to resign or say they have ‘lost faith in the management’ of the 95-year-old institution.

There has been a 19 percent decrease in the number of zookeepers and other union staff between 2019 and late 2023, according to the report.

The concerning trend has left the remaining zookeepers – who are trained to care for more than 2,000 animals – with the daunting task of overseeing even more exhibits, raising significant public safety and worker safety concerns.

But the zoo’s board has dismissed the recent incidents as ‘predicated on outdated or simply untrue information’ and ‘uniformly objectionable and baseless.’

Video footage that captured the terrifying incident where a keeper narrowly escaped a grizzly bear’s grasp last May had remained unreported in the media until now.

The zookeeper found himself fleeing from a massive 500-pound grizzly bear named Kiona after an oversight in securing her den allowed her to roam freely.

The keeper dashed through gates and barriers to safety, while colleagues managed to lure Kiona away from the public areas.

The staff who came to the keeper’s aid found him in a panic and the grizzly roaming freely, then-assistant curator of the zoo’s carnivores department, Travis Shields, told the Chronicle.

Shields, who was away during that particular moment but briefed by his employees after, eventually resigned last July after ‘upper management’s disregard of keepers’ concerns,’ the outlet reported.

‘Eventually something more severe is going to happen in the future if they continue on the same path,’ Shields said.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported, but this alarming incident, along with other recent safety relapses, has stirred unrest among zoo staff and prompted resignations.

Following the bear incident, modifications were made to the enclosure – including painting the walls a lighter color and spray-painting new ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ signs to enhance visibility for keepers, helping them determine if the door is securely closed.

New latches were also installed to ensure that keepers close the den doors before locking them.

In 2007, Carlos Sousa Jr, 17, was killed and two brothers badly mauled after a 300lb Siberian tiger escaped from its enclosure and went on a rampage.

In the recording, one of the injured men pleaded for help and asked why it was taking so long to come, shouting: ‘My brother’s about to die out here!’

A lawyer for Paul, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, said at the time that help did not arrive for more than 30 minutes.

Police had warned that the escaped tiger which savaged three zoo visitors may have been let out of its enclosure deliberately.

To reach the public area, the 350lb female would have had to leap an 18ft wide moat and scale a 20ft wall at San Francisco Zoo.

But the more sinister possibility is that the Siberian tiger, which chewed off a zookeeper’s arm during a public feeding session, might have been freed through criminal malice.

The emergency dispatcher told the brother that paramedics cannot come to his aid until they were sure they were not in danger.

‘We have to make sure the paramedics don’t get chewed out, because if the paramedics get hurt then nobody’s going to help you,’ they reportedly said.

The victim shouted: ‘My brother’s about to die out here!’

The dispatcher asked him to calm down but is told: ‘Can you fly a helicopter out here? Because I don’t see a f***ing ambulance.’

The recordings reveal initial disbelief among zoo staff about the tiger’s escape. They also detail how police located and then shot the beast, named Tatiana.

They start at 5:05pm when a zoo worker called emergency services to report the frantic brothers begging for help.

A woman in the background is heard saying: ‘I don’t know if they are on drugs or not. They are screaming about an animal – that has attacked them and there isn’t an animal out … He is saying he got attacked by a lion.’

The zoo worker said: ‘That is virtually impossible.’

At 5:10pm, the zoo worker learned an animal was loose. ‘We have a Code 1. They say they have a tiger out,’ he told the phone dispatcher and an evacuation began.

About 10 minutes later, a paramedic or a zoo employee reported that Mr Sousa, who was attacked just outside the tiger pen, was seriously hurt. ‘This person needs help now,’ he said.

After mauling Sousa the beast crept towards the zoo café. One of the Dhaliwal brothers – it is not clear which – rang for help from outside the café, saying: ‘It’s a matter of life and death.’

It is then that he pled for paramedics to get there quickly.

At 5:27pm a policeman shouted into his radio: ‘At the café, we have the tiger. We have the tiger attacking the victim.’

Less than a minute later, a call came over the radio to stop shooting. ‘We have the cat. We shot the cat,’ an officer said. ‘The victim is being attended to.’

Years later, tensions are still simmering between the leadership at the zoo and its frontline workers, according to the Chronicle’s report.

Over fifteen current and former workers have voiced complaints over management’s handling of animal welfare and safety protocols.

Three former employees told the Chronicle they left the zoo over arguments with higher ups over animal welfare standards.

Melissa Lory, a zookeeper from 2019 to 2021; Trisha Cassianni, a keeper from 2007 to 2021; and Dayna Sherwood, a keeper from 2006 to 2018, each described instances where animals suffered due to decisions made by management about medical care or housing.

‘I knew nothing was going to change as far as my welfare concerns I had for the animals I was responsible for,’ Lory, a former orangutan keeper, told the outlet. ‘I knew it was going to continue getting worse.’

She said the primates lived in an enclosure without access to a yard.

Cassianni, who also worked with the orangutans, agreed and called the zoo as ‘dysfunctional.’

‘It just didn’t seem like the zoo cared enough about the animals,’ she added.

Another one of the 15 employees told the outlet they had brought up concerns about grizzly bear security to management years prior to the the May 2023 incident.

‘I just felt intensely, but ambiguously, unsafe,’ the person said in an email.

Edward Poole, a board member and chair emeritus of the San Francisco Zoological Society, the nonprofit organization overseeing the zoo’s operations, dismissed the safety concerns as unfounded, claiming they were based on outdated or inaccurate information.

He called them ‘predicated on outdated or simply untrue information’ and were ‘uniformly objectionable and baseless.’

In an email response to the Chronicle, he emphasized that the grizzly bear incident posed no threat to visitors and highlighted that a subsequent inspection by the US Department of Agriculture confirmed the zoo’s compliance with its licensing requirements.

He explained that the situation arose when a zookeeper entered the grizzly bear’s habitat area under the belief that the bear was confined to another section and claimed the issue was resolved promptly due to the zoo’s unwavering dedication to the welfare of both its staff and animals under its care.

‘One of our zookeepers entered the grizzly bear’s habitat area at a time when it was believed that the bear was restricted to another part of its containment area,’ he said.

‘Due to a number of safety measures employed, the situation was quickly resolved. … This incident underscores our steadfast commitment to ensuring the welfare of both our staff and the animals in our care,’ he added.

This article by Nooa Halff was first published by The Daily Mail on 20 April 2024. Lead Image: The San Francisco Zoo has potentially earned the title of ‘America’s most dangerous zoo’ following a string of recent incidents including a zookeeper being chased by freed grizzly bear and a visitor getting mauled to death by an escaped tiger.

What you can do

Help to save wildlife by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute.


Focusing on Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising.

Dive in!

Discover hidden wildlife with our FREE newsletters

We promise we’ll never spam! Read our Privacy Policy for more info


Founder and Executive Editor

Share this post with your friends

Leave a Reply

Notify of