More details are emerging following the death of the San Francisco Zoo's youngest gorilla, Kabibe, last Friday. The question that's now being asked is why, given the rules reportedly in place at the Zoo, wasn't the nearly 16-month-old's crushing death beneath a hydraulic door preventable.
Though the SF Zoo has been keeping media off its grounds and refusing to answer questions or grant interviews, the Chronicle, to their credit, obtained the statement given to Zoo officials by Kabibe's keeper following her death.
Here's what the handwritten statement said:
I opened electric door 4 (Bawang and Kabibe's room). Bawang was carrying Kabibe tightly on her arm and entered room 4. I began to close electric door 4 and when I looked at the door again it was closed and Kabibe was caught in the door across her chest and I immediately opened the door. Bwang took her into the room. I called hospital to let them know that Kabibe was caught under the door and I needed help. It took 20 mins? 15 mins? to get Bwang and Kabibe separated. I went in to get Kabibe and handed her to the vet staff.
For context, Bawang was Kabibe's grandmother and primary caregiver. Room 4 refers to Bawang and Kabibe's night quarters.
According to the Chron, it was a Zoo rule that keepers have their hand on the emergency stop button for that and other doors any time they are in operation. In fact, a sign near the door that closed on Kabibe reads “To prevent injuries to the gorillas during operation of the electric doors: Move only one door at a time. Keep your hand on the stop button at all times. Do not leave the electric panel until operation of the door is complete.”
As noted yesterday, it appears that the door in question was neither equipped with an automatic shutoff sensor of the kind seen on common garage doors or elevators. However, as previously reported, the Zoo reports that the emergency stop button was indeed functional.
The Chron reports that the day after Kabibe's death, the Zoo's executive director, Tanya Peterson, emailed Zoo staffers saying “Since this may arise as an issue, I forward to you below the protocol that is posted next to the electric doors...As you can see, the keeper is to keep his or her hand on the 'stop’ button at all times.”
As we reported yesterday, the Zoo has enlisted Dr. Terry Maple, an ape expert known for his work in working with mismanages zoos, to investigate Kabibe's death.
Since the zookeeper is expected to “open the door or close the door," Maple tells the Chron he's already wondering how things unfolded as they did in the statement.
"If something were to go wrong, you would stop the door. So what happened? Why wasn’t it deployed? That’s what we don’t know yet.”