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Tiger expert: Cat shot after mauling likely provoked

SAN FRANCISCO — A female Siberian tiger killed in a hail of police gunfire after fatally mauling a man at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day 2007 likely was provoked into leaping and clawing out of its enclosure, a federal investigator said in documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The tiger named Tatiana killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and injured his friends, brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, leaving claw marks etched in the asphalt and claw fragments in the bushes outside its pen. Claw marks were also discovered near the top of the enclosure wall, which was lower than federal safety standards dictate, showing that the big cat was able to get enough leverage to pull itself out.

"It appears the tiger was able to jump from the bottom of the dry moat to the top of the wall, and gain enough purchase over the top to pull herself out over the moat wall," wrote Laurie Gage, a tiger expert who investigated the scene for the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, which oversees the nation's zoos.

"With my knowledge of tiger behavior I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked," Gage wrote in the Dec. 27, 2007, draft of her report.

That statement was stricken from the final version of the report because it was "irrelevant from an Animal Welfare Act enforcement standpoint," said David Sacks, a spokesman for APHIS. Whether or not the tiger was provoked has long been a point of contention.

After sitting with its prey for a short time, Gage wrote that Tatiana likely followed the Dhaliwals' blood trail for about 300 yards to where it resumed attacks. Photographs show blood-smeared asphalt where the tiger apparently dragged Sousa's body.

"After a kill, I find it interesting the tiger would leave a kill to go after something else unless there were a compelling reason," Gage wrote. "The tiger passed exhibits with warthogs, which it ignored as it followed (the blood trail?) of the two brothers to the Terrace Cafe outside the dining area."

The documents, provided to the AP more than three years after a Freedom of Information Act request, offer the first public glimpse into the findings of the APHIS investigation and details from the scene written by some of the officers who killed Tatiana.

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