The tragic death of 16-month-old gorilla Kabibe at the San Francisco Zoo has led to some high tension between animal keepers and the zoo's executive director, Tanya Peterson. At issue is how quickly Peterson went to the press to lay blame for the death on a zookeeper breaching protocol, and the zookeepers themselves now say Peterson is to blame for not heeding earlier warnings about the way the automatic doors functioned in the gorilla enclosures.
As earlier reported, the zoo's official statement was that human error was to blame in Kabibe's death, given that the zookeeper in charge of getting the animals into their sleeping quarters on November 7 should have had his or her hand on the stop button in order to prevent the door from hurting a gorilla that might dart under it.
But zookeepers say that the 30-year-old enclosures were unsafe to begin with, and the situation is more complicated than what was described.
Per the Chron:
To get the gorillas into their rooms, a lone zookeeper would stand at a control panel, which has up, down and stop buttons for each door. But the keepers said the panel area does not have a clear view of all of the doors because it is behind a metal screen and a transparent plastic wall.
“It’s chaotic when they go into their rooms,” [zookeeper Amy] Corso said. “You have to watch where (the gorillas) are. You have to read their body language, their posturing. You have to open the door and let one slip in, but you have to be careful how far you open it ... so other gorillas can’t get out.
“It’s a very stressful situation,” [zookeeper Dayna] Sherwood said. “You can’t always see what everyone’s doing.”
ABC 7 sat down with executive director Peterson to ask whether she thought her initial statements of blame to the media were premature, and she sort of admits as much.
But she denies knowing about an earlier incident in 2010 in which Kabibe's brother, Hasani, got his hand caught in the same door door number four that killed Kabibe.
Zookeeper say they had been pushing for a second set of eyes, from an additional employee, to watch the gorillas when moving them into their night quarters, but the zoo did not approve this until after the tragedy occurred two weeks ago.