Bronx zoo tiger attack: Man lives, big cat is forgiven

Survivors of tiger attacks often hold no animosity. As he lay injured from a tiger bite, entertainer Roy Horn whispered, 'Make sure no harm comes to Montecore.' Likewise, the tiger that mauled a man who jumped into his enclosure at the Bronx Zoo will not be euthanized.

Julie Larsen Maher/AP
In this 2010 photo, three tiger cubs rest by a fallen tree limb at the Tiger Mountain exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

Bashuta, the 400-pound tiger who mauled a man who jumped from an elevated train into the Bronx Zoo Wild Asia exhibit Friday, “did nothing wrong” and won’t be euthanized, zoo officials say.

The acknowledgement that the 26-year-old man was the culprit and the big cat was only acting out its nature isn’t uncommon in tiger attacks. In a long line of tiger attack cases, survivors tend to blame themselves or other factors, not the cats. Some victims even mourn when big cats are put down after an attack.

After the entertainer Roy Horn in 2003 nearly died after being bitten in the neck by Montecore, a tiger he had raised since it was six months old, he told assistants, “Montecore is a great cat. Make sure no harm comes to Montecore.” (Mr. Horn performed with Montecore again in 2009 as part of a “20/20” program.)

IN PICTURES: Famous zoo escapes

And a British woman who was mauled by a zoo tiger 30 years ago now raises money to help protect endangered cats around the world.

“I said I didn't want the tigress destroyed because I didn't think it was a vicious attack – she was just being herself and didn't do anything out of character,” Janet Coghlan told the BBC in 2010. "But sadly a few months later, she was destroyed."

In one of the most notable recent tiger attacks, three men were attacked, and one of them killed, in 2007 by a female cat, Tatiana, at the San Francisco Zoo. Tatiana had bitten a zookeeper a year earlier. After the first incident, Tatiana was allowed to live because, as then-director Manuel Mollinedo said, “The tiger was acting as a normal tiger does.”

Police shot and killed Tatiana after the tiger turned on them in the aftermath of the multiple maulings she inflicted on three men, one of whom later acknowledged taunting the animal.

"As a result of this investigation, [police believe] that the tiger may have been taunted/agitated by its eventual victims," wrote Police Inspector Valerie Matthews in an affidavit. Police believe that "this factor contributed to the tiger escaping from its enclosure and attacking its victims.”

Bashuta, an 11-year-old tiger and one of 10 on hand at the Bronx Zoo, watched Friday as a man named David Villalobos jumped into the enclosure from an elevated train that runs around the exhibit perimeters. The tiger attacked Mr. Villalobos, breaking his arm and a leg and biting him on his arms, legs, shoulders and back. Within 10 minutes, zoo keepers had shooed Bashuta off with the help of a fire extinguisher. Villalobos is in stable condition at a local hospital.

Zoo director Jim Breheny said the zoo would review its safety procedures, but was quick to absolve Bashuta from blame.

“We review everything, but we honestly think we provide a safe experience," Mr. Breheny told the Associated Press. "And this is just an extraordinary occurrence … somebody was deliberately trying to endanger themselves."

“The tiger,” he added, “did nothing wrong in this episode.”

IN PICTURES: Famous zoo escapes

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