'They're Natural Born Killers': Wild Animals in Captivity Inherently Dangerous

Tiger attack at S.F. zoo is the latest reminder that wild animals are wild.

ByABC News
December 28, 2007, 11:19 AM

Dec. 28, 2007 — -- The aftermath of the tragic tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo that killed one and severely wounded two more has left us with many questions.

How did the tiger escape its confinement? Was it provoked? How could this happen? If it wasn't clear enough before, we must learn again: Wild animals are wild and capable, at any time, of aggressive, even fatal attacks.

"These animals are bored. They're smart, they're agile, they're emotional and they're working 24/7 to get out of their prison because that's what they're in: a prison cell," said Mark Bekoff, a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado.

"I would not frankly want to live around a zoo that has big cats in it now they're bound to get out, it's just going to happen," he said. "I think this is a warning flag for zoos if they're going to keep big cats they need to be more careful."

We have seen this over and over, and not just with zoo animals.

Consider Moe, a chimpanzee who lived with St. James Davis and his wife, LaDonna, in their suburban Los Angeles home for decades, until one day in 1999, he attacked a police officer and a woman and was sent to live at an animal sanctuary. During a visit to the sanctuary in 2005, two chimps in an adjacent cage escaped and attacked Davis and nearly mauled him to death.

In 2004 after 10 years of working together, a 6,000-pound whale attacked his Sea World trainer, repeatedly diving on top of him and driving him underwater before he was rescued. There was a similar whale attack in 2006.

And a lion named Bongo attacked his trainer, Dave Salmoni, in front of an audience of thousands of school kids in Toronto in 1999.

"He just sort of grabbed a hold of my arm, tore out some muscles and taught me a very good lesson," said Salmoni. "You believe they love you, like you love them. And that's the best lesson to learn about these guys. They don't have the same feelings that we do. And they won't think twice if they come to kill you."

Perhaps the most notable case involved Siegfried and Roy, the world-renowned Las Vegas performers that feature trained tigers. Roy was severely mauled on stage and nearly bled to death, attacked by a prized tiger he had raised and trained from a cub.