Probe finds San Francisco Zoo gorilla pen unsafe

AP News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2014 5:37 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An investigator probing the death of a baby gorilla crushed under an electric door at the San Francisco Zoo found the enclosure is outdated and unsafe and should be replaced.

The 16-month-old gorilla named Kabibe (kuh-BEE'-bay) was killed last week when she unexpectedly darted under the closing door. The accident happened as her surrogate mother carried her on her arm into their nighttime enclosure from a public viewing area.

The gorilla expert hired by the zoo found the employee who was operating the hydraulic door with an emergency stop button did not have a clear and unimpeded view of the doors, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1xEmvvE).

Dr. Terry Maple advised scrapping the 30-year-old holding facility and replacing it with a state-of-the-art system that would be safer for the apes and could include a portable system for operating the doors.

That would allow workers to look directly into the enclosures and likely lessen or prevent accidents.

Maple said the doors aren't designed to stop when they hit something the way garage doors are, and watching each of the doors from the control panel is "possible to do, but not easy to do."

He will present the findings to zoo officials, who will decide how to proceed.

Zoo employees operating those hydraulic doors are supposed to keep a hand on a stop button at all times, and there is warning included on a sign near the gorilla door.

It was not clear Friday if she followed protocol or if she was facing disciplinary action.

The zoo employee's name and work history have not been released.

The zoo report also shows the exhibit's night quarters have a history of mechanical failures and safety issues, including an incident in July 2012 when an adult gorilla had her right hand pinched under a door, cutting the base of her fingers.

In March 2013, the same door jammed and was pried open with a crowbar and earlier this year unexpectedly collapsed. No injuries were reported in those incidents.

Zoo officials declined comment.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com