CALGARY — Police say two men who snuck into the Calgary Zoo and ended up tangling with a tiger had been drinking and went to the facility after hours to surprise a staff member they knew.
“We do know the two offenders had been drinking prior to this,” said Calgary police Staff-Sgt. Rick Halford.
“What their state of mind was before that, we don’t know. We know they were intent on surprising somebody at the zoo and things got a little carried away.
“Apparently there was a staff member at the zoo they were familiar with.”
Police say Trever James Wearmouth and Thomas Anthony Bryce-Hart, both 27, scaled the outer fence of the zoo early Monday and hopped a smaller safety fence around the tiger exhibit.
One of the men suffered severe injuries to his arms when the tiger attacked from inside its enclosure. The other man had minor injuries.
The pair ended up calling the staff member they knew for help. Halford said that person was not involved in the alleged caper in any way and didn’t know the men were in the zoo until the call was made.
The two have been charged with one count each of petty trespassing. No criminal charges will be laid, Halford said.
Police would not reveal which man suffered the more serious injuries, citing privacy laws. Nor would they update the condition of the severely injured man.
Halford suggested the duo’s fate should discourage anyone who might be inspired to follow in their footsteps.
“I would think this should be big enough deterrent,” he said. “Again, human nature is such that we can’t predict that.”
The first hint of a problem came about 1:03 a.m. Monday, when security cameras near the enclosure which houses three of the zoo’s tigers caught a two-second glimpse of two men.
The pair had scaled a 2 1/2-metre-high fence topped with barbed wire, which surrounds the property.
Two fences surround the tiger enclosure. The men hopped the shorter safety fence, which is designed to keep people back from the exhibit.
Only one of the giant cats, a two-year-old male named Vitali, was outside at the time. With only a slim wire fence between Vitali and the men, the tiger attacked.
The security camera next caught the men as they were helped to a security station around 1:07 a.m.
Zoo officials said someone would have to be pressed up against the fence for the tiger to be able to reach them, and added the large cat probably used both his teeth and claws.
The animal was very unsettled when keepers first saw him after the attack, but he wasn’t injured.
The zoo has said it is reviewing its security procedures in light of the attack. Vitali was born at the zoo in July 2007 to much fanfare because there are only an estimated 450 of his species left in the wild.
Siberian tigers are an endangered species found in the Amur Valley of northeastern Russia. They are threatened by habitat destruction and overhunting for their luxurious pelts and for body parts used in traditional medicines.
They are the largest species of cat in the world. Males weigh between 180 and 305 kilograms and can grow to be between three and 3 1/2 metres in length from their nose to the tip of their tail.
In the wild, the tigers eat mainly wild boars, deer and antelope. They ambush their target, sneaking up on it and then stopping within a few metres until ready to attack — sometimes waiting for up to two hours.