Facing growing public outrage, San Jose zoo officials Wednesday struggled to explain how an overnight Security patrol failed to notice that a pack of dogs had slipped into Happy Hollow Park and Zoo after dark and mauled to death four miniature horses and a donkey in two attacks last month.
The grisly attacks occurred sometime after dark five days apart. But — despite the presence of surveillance cameras inside the zoo and a security guard patrolling outside — zoo workers didn’t discover the carnage until the next morning when the maintenance staff arrived.
Questions are swirling about the zoo’s failure to protect the beloved animals, especially after the first miniature horse named Sweet William was found mauled to death in its pen on Jan. 15.
Happy Hollow increased security after the first attack, with park rangers and animal control officers bolstering outside patrols. But there was just one security guard overnight, who patrolled only outside the 16-acre park’s fenced perimeter, said Carolina Camarena, a spokeswoman for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department, which runs the zoo.
How could the guard have not heard the ruckus from a pack of dogs attacking a herd of horses?
“The short answer is it’s a 16-acre zoo,” Camarena said. “It’s quite possible the security detail could have been on other side of the park.”
Other Bay Area zoos, however, appear to have more eyes and ears on their animals. At Oakland Zoo, for example, a zookeeper is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to security patrols both inside and outside the perimeter fencing, spokeswoman Erin Harrison said. Oakland Zoo is 56 acres and will expand to 100 acres in June.
“We do have security guards, and a nighttime zookeeper goes through the zoo constantly checking on the animals,” Harrison said.
San Francisco zoo officials did not return calls to explain how they monitor animals after hours.
The security cameras at Happy Hollow also did not detect the dog attacks because they weren’t directed toward the animals.
“Our surveillance is focused on monitoring for potential intrusion around the animal enclosures,” said Shannon Heimer, the zoo’s interim general manager. “If the cameras were focused on the enclosures, our zoo animals’ movements would constantly trigger the cameras and obscure our ability to know if there was an actual intruder inside the park.”
Animal security came into question at San Francisco’s zoo in 2007 after a tiger apparently leaped out of its enclosure and attacked three men, killing one of them and prompting the zoo to make improvements to the exhibit.
But San Jose’s zoo has not been the focus of similar concerns.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regularly inspects zoos and other organizations that exhibit animals. Records show the agency inspected Happy Hollow on March 31, 2017, and on Jan. 27, 2016, and found “no noncompliant items.”
Happy Hollow also has been continuously accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a nonprofit that promotes conservation, education, science and recreation at more than 230 institutions in the U.S. and abroad. The accreditation aims to ensure that the facility meets the AZA’s standards for animal management and care, living environments, social groupings, health and nutrition.
AZA spokesman Rob Vernon said Happy Hollow notified the organization after the attacks, and the AZA will review the zoo’s response.
On Wednesday, animal lovers filled social media with outrage over the attacks.
“It seems there was a serious lapse of judgment with regard to the security of these animals,” one commenter posted on this news organization’s website.
After the first attack, San Jose animal control officers set traps but captured only raccoons, a skunk and feral cat before the second attack was discovered Jan. 20. The dogs killed three miniature horses — Luna, Spice Girl and Cayenne — and a Sicilian donkey named Maybelline that had been moved to an outdoor grazing pen surrounded by a six-foot high chain-link fence. The dogs apparently dug under the fence to kill the animals.
Guards now are patrolling both inside and outside the park.
“Security was increased after the first incident and will be permanently increased,” Heimer said. “Additional security cameras are being evaluated, and an upgrade to the existing system is pending.”
The security cameras showed three dogs — two large and one small — running loose inside the park the night of both attacks. Only one dog, a Belgian Malinois, was found inside the grazing pen after the second attack. Another similar-looking large dog was captured in nearby Kelly Park shortly afterward. The third dog, believed to be a chihuahua, hasn’t been found but isn’t considered a threat.
Though security footage didn’t capture the attack, city officials are convinced that at least the dog found inside the pen, and likely the other found nearby that matched the security video, are responsible.
“Security footage and Animal Care and Services confirm that the dogs were present during both incidences,” Heimer said. “The necropsy results also verified multiple, variable bite marks.”
Animal Care and Services spokeswoman Julie St. Gregory said the Malinois found in the pen wasn’t bloody around the mouth but noted that dogs tend to lick themselves clean. Though the dog in the pen was friendly with zoo staff, both large dogs will likely be euthanized in a week if no one claims them, she said.
City officials are meanwhile considering making arrangements for a memorial for the beloved horses and donkey. Heimer said anyone who wishes to contribute or share memories should email zoo communications manager Charlotte Orr at [email protected]
“We recognize the need for the community to grieve,” Heimer said. “We are encouraging guests to submit photos and we will place them near the barn. For those who would like to send flowers, we will be place the flowers near the grazing pen.”
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