Tiger attacks kindergartner

By Michelle R. Smith
Saturday September 21, 2002


SAN FRANCISCO — A 6-year-old boy spent the night in a hospital recovering from a gash to his hairline after he was attacked by a tiger at a school assembly in Scotts Valley. 

The female tiger, called Sima, was being led on a leash out of an auditorium at Baymonte Christian School by her trainer Friday afternoon when she leaped over a row of seats and grabbed the boy’s head in her jaws, said Capt. Harry Bidleman, Scotts Valley Police. Authorities have not identified the boy. 

Anita Jackson, an employee of the business that owns Sima, said the incident was not an attack, but simply a case of a playful tiger. 

Principal Steve Patterson was sitting one row behind the boy and wrestled him away from the animal, said school spokeswoman Jenny Paul. 

The boy was airlifted to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, where he was doing well Friday afternoon and was receiving stitches for a laceration along his hairline, according to Dr. Phillip Harter. 

“He’s a very lucky young man. He’s been up talking to us and smiling,” Harter said. A CT scan found no other injuries, he said. 

Police said the tiger was in custody of its owner, Zoo to You Wildlife Education Inc., a Southern California-based company that makes educational presentations at schools. Police planned to coordinate any possible investigation with Santa Cruz County Animal Services and the state Department of Fish and Game. 

“It sounds more accidental than criminal, but there could be some overseeing bodies that would want this completely investigated,” Bidleman said. 

The school said the 1-year-old tiger was brought to the school as a reward for children who had sold 10 or more magazine subscriptions. About 150 students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, attended the assembly and were kept clear of the animal during the event, Paul said. 

“(She) was here last year when (she) was a little cub. It was (her) second visit here,” Paul said. 

Zoo to You did not immediately return calls for comment. 

But in a televised interview Friday evening in San Jose next to an open van with the tiger inside, the company’s supervisor of animal care and training said Sima had not attacked the boy, but was just playing. Anita Jackson said the children had been asked to sit down as Sima left the room but several jumped up, attracting the tiger’s attention. 

“Of course, we’re going to think about what happened today. But I don’t think we have a problem with her. She was never aggressive,” Jackson said. “She just saw them playing and she wanted to play as well.” 

She said the 140 to 150 pound animal had been used in at least 150 assemblies. Sima never had been aggressive and the company has no plans to stop bringing her to schools, she added. 

Scotts Valley is about 60 miles south of San Francisco.