April 15, 2016 Timeline
7:15 – 7:45 – The day began as normal for Stacey and the Zoo. Stacey arrived at the Zoo for Class 1 animal checks. Class 1 animal checks are a mandatory visual confirmation of every Class 1 animal (including tigers) performed daily. The Zoo cannot open until this task is performed. These checks were performed.
7:45 – 8:15 – A zookeeper called in sick. Schedules were re-arranged and Stacey, who had been previously scheduled to work in a different area, volunteered to work tigers, among other animals.
9:00 – The Zoo opened. Attendance for the day was 345 guests.
9:30 – 10:15 – Stacey and another zookeeper went to the tiger exhibits, to move animals from “on” to “off” of the exhibit. Here is what that means: The Zoo’s normal procedure is to have one tiger “on exhibit” during the day while the Zoo is open at each of the Zoo’s two tiger exhibit areas (Tiger River/Tiger Falls). This means that a single tiger is placed in the exhibits areas where the tiger can be seen by guests. The second tiger on each exhibit is secured in the “night house” during the day. The night house is a secure structure located behind the exhibit which is not generally accessible to the public.
This procedure involving moving tigers “on” and “off” exhibit is always performed with two zookeepers as suggested by the AZA. That morning, Stacey and a fellow zookeeper performed this procedure together on both the Tiger River and Tiger Falls exhibit areas.
A male tiger was left in each night house enclosure, and a male and the female were placed on exhibits. This situation where one tiger is placed on exhibit, and a second tiger is secured in the night house is the same procedure that happens every day at the Zoo. Accordingly, the keepers involved that day, including Stacey, were aware that there was one tiger in each of the Zoo’s two night houses and were aware of the location of those tigers.
Also as part of this procedure, the keepers change the “animal access” signs on each of the doors in the night house to indicate what areas of the night house are accessible to the tiger.
Stacey and the other keeper changed these signs on the doors located in the night houses, so that anyone entering the night house (in addition to the keepers who set up the enclosure) would know the areas to which a tiger had access. According to witnesses, this procedure was done correctly.
The “animal access” signs are a secondary safety measure. Keepers are trained to “put eyes” on all animals in any enclosure at the Zoo before performing any tasks involving entry into any area that could be occupied by a tiger. Except for circumstances where the animal is receiving veterinary care, and is tranquilized and restrained, keepers never enter any area to which an animal may have access.
10:15 – 12:15 – To the best of our knowledge, Stacey spent this time working her normal rounds at the Zoo.
12:15 – 1:00 – A monthly all-staff lunch was held, which Stacey attended.
1:00 – 1:50 – Stacey’s exact activity is unknown, but we assume she was doing her job as normal. She had a scheduled tiger talk at 2:00.
Approximately 1:55 pm – Two maintenance personnel (who were located in a maintenance area approximately 50 yards from the Tiger River night house) heard what sounded like a scream coming from the night house area. They rushed to investigate. Once they concluded that someone might be injured, they followed Zoo procedures and made a call for help using the Zoo’s radio communications system.
Also at approximately 1:55 pm (within seconds of hearing the initial call for help on the radio). A keeper arrived at the location, assessed the situation and issued a Code Red for the Zoo. A Code Red is an emergency call that commences a safety protocol for a variety of reasons. One scenario where a Code Red can be issued is where an animal has escaped or poses a threat to humans. At this time, a call went out over the radio for the paramedics to be called. Zoo personnel began ushering patrons into secure buildings and locked down the Zoo.
1:56 – The Zoo dispatcher called 911.
A word about the 911 call: It is important to understand that the person who made the 911 call was in an administration trailer on the opposite end of the Zoo. She did not have all of the information as to what was transpiring at the time the 911 call was made. If you listen carefully, you can hear that she is on the phone with 911, while simultaneously listening to radio traffic and trying to figure out what exactly is transpiring. She relayed information to the 911 operator as she received it. She was not holding back any information.
From approximately 1:56 – 2:01 – Employees are responding to the Code Red. Some are seeing to the evacuation of the Zoo, others are arriving from various locations around the Zoo at the tiger night house, including the Zoo employee who was the “Incident Commander” under the Zoo’s emergency procedures. It is also believed that this is approximately the same time the police and paramedics arrived at the Zoo.
From approximately 2:02 - 2:03: The Incident Commander and other Zoo employees evaluate the situation and determine that the safest course of action is to shoot the tiger with a tranquilizer gun. Here is why that decision was made:
I want to make absolutely clear that our only priority in a situation like this is to protect our employees and the public. The decision to tranquilize the animal rather than use lethal force had nothing to do with the animal. We place our employees’ lives and their wellbeing first --- always. The fact that the animal is endangered played no role in the decision making process.
The decision to use a tranquilizer dart versus shooting the animal was also made during a crisis situation, using the best information available to us at the time. So we are clear, if this were the last animal of its kind and a human life were in danger, we would kill the animal if it were the right decision.
In evaluating the decision with the goal towards protecting human life, we analyzed a number of factors:
First, the proximity of the animal to people. In this instance, the animal was within inches of Stacey’s body, including her head and was “prey guarding”, which is a protective position tigers will assume over prey in the wild with their ears pointed back. We evaluated the situation and determined that, if we were to shoot at the animal, there was a chance that we may hit Stacey.
Second, there were numerous people in and around the enclosure. Stacey and the animal were in a den which was small and made of concrete, steel, and other dense materials. At times, the animal was also moving. We were concerned that if the shot missed (for example if the animal moved) or if the shot went through the animal, the projectile could ricochet and hit Stacey or someone else. This has happened in other incidents involving shootings of this type at other zoos. Moreover, the only angle we had in which to shoot the animal was through a small chute door (about 2 feet wide by 3 feet tall) and through heavy wire fencing. Our ability to take a clean shot was limited.
Third, there is no guarantee that if you shoot the animal, you will kill it immediately. It is possible that you could only wound the animal, angering it and creating additional and unnecessary risk to Stacey.
Fourth, with our experience with tigers, including this particular animal, when you tranquilize them for medical reasons, their first reaction is usually to flee, meaning he would leave Stacey’s side.
Based upon our evaluation of all these factors - in about a minute’s time - the decision was made to tranquilize the animal and the Zoo stands by that decision.
Within minutes of the animal being tranquilized: Zoo personnel were able to secure the animal and emergency personnel were able to access Stacey. While we await the coroner report, we are able to report that Zoo personnel checked Stacey’s vital signs upon entry into the enclosure and it is believed that she had no pulse at that time.
We do not know why Stacey entered the enclosure where she knew a tiger was present and we believe the sign on the enclosure door indicated that the animal had access. That is a matter, which is still under investigation. One reason we do not know is because she did not radio the other keeper she was working with to advise that she would be entering the enclosure and state why. Making such a radio call is the normal procedure before any keeper would enter a secured enclosure. We may never know the answer to this question.
*** These times are estimates based upon an incomplete internal investigation and should not be relied upon as a confirmation that they represent the actual times of the events identified.