Quick Teamwork Returns Tiger to Enclosure at Jungle Island

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It took trainers just 45 minutes to locate and safely recapture a tiger walking loose at Miami’s Island Jungle attraction Saturday afternoon.

A three-year-old male tiger named Mahesh escaped from his enclosure early Saturday afternoon at the popular Jungle Island attraction on Watson Island. Fortunately for everyone involved the Bengal tiger had been hand-reared and affection trained by professional handlers which allowed the large cat to be recaptured safely without further incident.

A gibbon monkey had been swinging through the top branches of the enclosure's tree canopy, exciting the normally calm feline. Mahesh chased the primate, and leapt against the enclosure walls, tipped over the overhang, and fell on top of the barrier fence. The large crowd of people gathered outside the enclosure panicked when the tiger landed outside. Mahesh was stunned by his fall, got up, and calmly walked around inside the park.

Within minutes the park staff had all visitors escorted to safety. Trainers implemented recapture plans. Mahesh did not have to be tranquilized. Amy York, head trainer and tiger handler, used food to entice the big cat to walk into a transport cage. Mahesh was loose for approximately 45 minutes. Ms. York stated, "We attribute our quick and successful containment of Mahesh to the routine practice of our contingency plans, and the years of conditioning all our felines receive. All of our tigers look to us for guidance and reassurance and are used to being moved with transport cages."

Ms. York explained, "A tiger is a territorial animal. It is its natural 'territorial imperative' that creates the invisible barriers that confine a tiger in the wild, and this is the same instinct that helps confine wildlife in captivity. Mahesh was not trying to escape. When he fell outside his enclosure, his years of conditioning enabled us to help him return to safety."

The San Francisco Zoo experienced tragic results when Tatiana, their Siberian tiger, escaped Christmas Day 2007, mauling two people and killing another. Tatiana was not hand-reared or affection trained, nor was she conditioned to routine. Police shot Tatiana because she was dangerously hostile to people. According to Ms. York, "That tiger was reared with a completely different husbandry style, resulting in a completely different personality than the tigers at Jungle Island."

Public safety is a top priority at Jungle Island. The tiger enclosure is 14 feet tall with a recurve at the top. At no point did the animal leave the park. He remained contained by the facility’s secondary perimeter fencing, a common security measure that is employed by zoological institutions. A review of the escape is underway and the park will assess the situation and work to prevent any repeat.

Patty Perry, vice president of the Feline Conservation Federation says, "Unfortunately even under most optimum circumstances regarding safety, incidents such as this sometimes occur. I am very pleased by the immediate and professional response of the staff at Jungle Island. Together with well-trained and tractable animals, the strict protocol and emergency training implemented at this facility proved to be a success. This is the type of positive outcome that we all strive for."

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