Zoo taunters face harsher dues
By: Mike Aldax
January 11, 2010
After several incidents in which patrons of the San Francisco Zoo have either taunted the wildlife or snuck into enclosures containing dangerous animals, a city lawmaker is proposing to tighten laws and increase penalties for those who foolishly mingle with The City’s animals.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s proposal adds language to an existing law that prohibits entrance into habitats and enclosures, including the bison paddock in Golden Gate Park. The new law would specify that taunting or endangering animals in any city park is not allowed and would also heighten maximum fines for violations from $500 to $1,000.
The lawmaker introduced the legislation after a man who snuck into the grizzly bear enclosure Sept. 26 not only managed to escape with his life, but also without punishment. A Superior Court judge tossed out a misdemeanor trespassing charge against the 21-year-old man after his public defender argued that he did not intend to stay in the enclosure.
“Turns out that you can’t be charged with criminal trespass unless you occupy or otherwise live [in the space],” said Bob Jenkins, the zoo’s vice president of institutional advancement.
Never mind that the trespasser had to be rescued, which endangered zookeepers and the bears, Jenkins said.
Shocked by the ruling, Elsbernd said the legislative branch needed to step in and “correct problems presented by the judicial branch.”
The current city law does not do enough to deter or hold accountable those who stupidly mingle with wildlife, Elsbernd said.
The problem is not new, particularly at San Francisco Zoo.
No one can forget the 2007 Christmas Day tiger attack in which one of the animals leapt from its grotto and mauled three victims, killing one. Rumors swirled that the tiger had been taunted prior to the attack.
The following year, a patron was caught tossing acorns at a rhinoceros. And later that year, a man was caught climbing the fence of the black rhino enclosure.
And those are only incidents in which violators were caught.
The incidents “indicate a need to make sure we have ordinances on the books that allow for appropriate penalties,” said Jim Lazarus, president of the Recreation and Park Commission.
Elsbernd’s ordinance “makes [entering into zoo enclosures] outright illegal,” and “confirms that it is a misdemeanor and accentuates the penalties,” Jenkins said.
“It’s specific to the city of San Francisco and eliminates any confusion,” he said.
The legislation is expected to be heard by the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee as early as next month