Animal Rights Group Calls for Federal Investigation on Tiger Escape

Sidney Quintal
Sidney Quintal

WAIKIKI (KHNL) -- Just months after a tiger escapes from the San Francisco Zoo and fatally mauls a teenager, a wild cat gets loose at the Honolulu Zoo.

An animal rights group is calling on the federal government to investigate. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) accuses the zoo of violating the Animal Welfare Act.

The group sent a letter Friday, urging the Department of Agriculture to see if the Honolulu Zoo is subject to federal fines or penalties.

PETA says nothing but sheer luck kept the tiger escape from turning into a nightmare.

8-year-old Berani is back in his habitat, safe. But he could have faced a different fate if his brief escape on Thursday morning turned dangerous.

"Had he gone in another direction and decided to get more curious about what his surroundings were, we would have probably had to put him down," said Sidney A. Quintal, the Director of the Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the zoo.

Quintal says the 245-pound Sumatran tiger pushed through two gates a zookeeper forgot to lock. He walked past a volunteer, who then alerted staff.

"Berani came out into {a} gated area and at that point in time when he was walking through, this volunteer saw him, she immediately exited and shut the gate and locked him in," said Quintal.

Zoo employees say Berani was loose for no more than two to three minutes. No one was hurt, and the zoo was closed at the time. Quintal says Berani is the most tame of the three tigers at the zoo. Berani's mom rejected him and humans have raised him since birth, so Quintal says the tiger is friendly.

Still, the 'what if' has PETA alarmed.

"PETA is opposed to holding wild animals in captivity all together and we feel that this is just one more example of why it's inappropriate, especially for a species such as tigers," said PETA spokesperson Lisa Wathne.

"I appreciate PETA's concern. I do feel that if this was an intentional issue or if we were being inhumane in treating our animals then they have every right to raise an alarm. This was an unintentional incident," said Quintal.

The city is now looking at ways to improve security in the tiger exhibit, so people and animals like Berani stay safe.

Some added security measures include extending the fence line, reinforcing staff training and installing self-closing devices to gates. Quintal apologizes for the incident.