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After tiger attack, I-Reporters look back on zoo visits

By Nicole Saidi
CNN
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(CNN) -- Sawyer Jones kept asking if the tigers could get out of their enclosure. The 3-year-old boy was with his family at the San Francisco Zoo on Tuesday to enjoy a brisk holiday morning with the animals.

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A tiger dozes in the sun as Matthew Jones poses with his son Sawyer during their zoo visit Tuesday.

Sawyer's father, Matthew Jones, said he was sure the tigers couldn't escape from their zoo exhibit. He never could have guessed it would really happen. Just a day after a tiger mauled one person to death and injured two others at the zoo, the elder Jones, of Menlo Park, California, was in shock.

"I assured him they couldn't," Matthew Jones said. "I felt no reason for concern. I'm very curious to find out how the animal got out."

The family visited the zoo Tuesday morning and left before 1 p.m. The coincidence was unsettling.

"We couldn't believe that we were there just a few hours earlier," Matthew Jones said.

The deceased victim has been identified as 17-year-old Carlos Sousa of San Jose, California, the San Francisco medical examiner's office said Wednesday.

Matthew Jones said that after many trips to zoos around the country, he thought this zoo was "perfectly adequate" and saw nothing odd about it. He also thought it was highly unlikely that a huge tiger would be able to climb out of the enclosure.

Photo View CNN.com readers' photos of the tiger exhibit »

Other zoo visitors weren't so sure. Jina S., of San Jose, is questioning the nervous jokes she used to make about the tigers trying to jump out.

Jina said she had always felt slightly uneasy about the pit surrounding the exhibit. She and her husband made comments about the tigers in the enclosure during their December 1 visit.

"When we were there, we were discussing how it wasn't much of a stretch that they could jump over that gap," she said. "We were joking at the time, and it's horrible it happened to [Sousa]."

But Jen Williams of Hollister, California, said she felt safe during her June 2007 visit and didn't think the animals could jump over anything. She says that keeping animals in zoos brings some risk to what is generally a safe environment.

"It's always scary when you go someplace where there's large animals in captivity," she said.

Steven Arnold of Mountain View, California, echoed Williams' sentiments and said tigers are wild animals that can do wild things, even in captivity. He has been going to the zoo for years and said he always thought it was theoretically possible for the tigers to escape their exhibit.

"They're pretty spectacular animals when you see them up close," Arnold said. "They're huge. They don't remind you much of a house cat when you're seeing them up close."

As at several other zoos, patrons are invited to watch the tigers get meaty meals. Arnold describes the feedings as "a big spectacle" where visitors can get fairly close to the animals. Tigers' animal instincts become more apparent at these events, he said.

"[Zookeepers] feed them raw meat," Arnold said. "They definitely give you the impression of being wild animals."

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Reflecting on the mauling, Williams said she will continue to go see the animals and added that she's observed that renovations go on all the time.

"I guess it's just a risk you take, but it's very sad." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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