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January 3, 2008

By Amanda Beck

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The San Francisco Zoo reopened on Thursday, nine days after an escaped 250-pound (113-kg) Siberian tiger killed one visitor and mauled two others before police shot it to death.

Families said they were enjoying their rainy-day visit and only mildly disappointed that the zoo's four remaining tigers were behind locked red doors posted with the sign: "The lions and tigers are not on exhibit until further notice."

A tall fence wrapped in green tarp blocked the road to the big cat grottos. Construction crews were adding nearly 7 feet (2 meters) of glass to the wall that separates the cats from their admirers.

These and a few other modifications were the only reminders of the attack still under police investigation. But several visitors said they suspected that 4-year-old Tatiana, the tiger, must have had a reason to leap from her grotto on Christmas Day and kill Carlos Sousa, Jr., 17.

"That animal was very upset and did something it wouldn't normally do, so I'm suspicious," said Dessie Sandoval, 58. "It was unfortunate that they had to put that cat down because it was acting instinctively. And that's what draws us here -- to see these wild animals."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday that an eyewitness told police she saw several boys taunting the big cats near closing time that day.

Police have also discovered a vodka bottle in the car of Sousa's two mauled companions, brothers Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, police spokesman Steve Mannina said.

"As the details come out, it looks more and more like there were some instances of taunting or something that caused Tatiana to come out of her cage," said Sam Singer, part of the zoo's newly hired crisis management team. "If taunting occurred on Christmas Day, that would give people a different impression of what happened here."

The zoo has been criticized by the Dhaliwals' attorney, Mark Geragos, for taking more than 30 minutes to call the police emergency number after the brothers reported a tiger was loose.

Geragos has also pointed out that the wall separating Tatiana from the public was built in the 1940s and only 12-1/2 feet (3.8-meters) high, short of the 16 feet (4.9 meters) urged by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for modern tiger enclosures.

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