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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Banana-Sam's Brethren: Other Memorable Human-Zoo Creature Interactions

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 2:50 PM

The zoo has Banana-Sam back in hand...
  • The zoo has Banana-Sam back in hand...

The disappearance -- and all-too-convenient return -- of purloined San Francisco Zoo squirrel monkey Banana-Sam turned the eyes of the world toward San Francisco and its simian population.

It seems the 2-pound monkey is unharmed after an unscheduled captivity amid his regular captivity. All's well that ends well, and this case seems to have ended well. Other memorable interactions between humans and zoo animals haven't gone so swimmingly, however.

Let's start with the one about Tyson Beckford and the bear pit.

The Grizzly Bear Grotto Trial

The disembodied voice of actor and model Beckford was a surprise witness of sorts in this bizarre 2009 incident in which a homeless man wandered into the zoo's bear enclosure -- yet was found not guilty of any charges whatsoever.

Kenneth Herron
  • Kenneth Herron
Kenneth Herron
James Conger, the public defender for grizzly bear visitor Kenneth Herron, pulled off a stunning coup when he managed to convince Judge Wallace Douglass that a man who cleared an electric fence, scaled a second barricade, and leaped over a moat Pitfall Harry-style was not "trespassing." That's because, per the legal definition of criminal trespassing, one must not only breach others' property but do so with the intention of establishing "occupation." Since Herron was rescued rapidly enough that he never became bear droppings, he never had a chance to "occupy" the Grizzly Bear Grotto.

Conger deserved to pull of the courtroom equivalent of an end zone dance after that one -- but it got wilder. That's because the district attorneys prosecuting the case subsequently watched, open-mouthed, as a defense expert witness explained why the 21-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness felt compelled to enter the lethal animals' enclosure. Apparently, the voice of Beckford entered his head and ordered him to rescue a "damsel in distress" in the bear pit.

"That was so incredibly strange and we were as surprised as anybody," said Brian Buckelew, an Assistant District Attorney and, at the time, the spokesman for the office. "We weren't privy to the psychiatric reports about how Tyson Beckford told him to go into that grotto until it came out on the stand." 

Herron was acquitted of all charges. Had he not been wanted on other criminal allegations elsewhere in the state he would have walked out of the courtroom a free man -- and then walked God knows where.

More Than a Petting Zoo

In 1997, a lamb at the petting zoo began acting strangely and exhibited trouble urinating. A veterinarian later discovered "vaginal trauma." A police stakeout at the time did result in an intruder hightailing it from the scene.

I think everyone gets the gist of what likely happened at the petting zoo. In 1993, an even more clear-cut case of bestial late-night encounters took place when keepers discovered a half-naked man in mid-debauch, surrounded by sheep and a tethered pony. One of the sheep had suffered vaginal damage.

So, yes, things could have gone much worse for Banana-Sam.

Tiger, beat
  • Tiger, beat
The One You're All Thinking Of

On Christmas Day of 2007, Tatiana the 350-pound Siberian Tiger leaped out of her pen, mauled 17-year-old Carlos Sousa, Jr. to death, and rampaged through the zoo before dying in a hail of police gunfire. While zoo officials pointed the finger at Sousa's companions -- the degenerate, nacho-munching Dhaliwal brothers -- it turned out the tiger's enclosure was 8 feet shorter than the zoo claimed it was, and 4 feet shorter than industry standards.

The four officers who shot the tiger, incidentally, were all awarded the departmental medal of honor.

Let's end this on a lighter note.

Zoo Patron Receives Standing Ovation After Beaning Monkey with Thrown Apple

In circa 1977, a San Francisco mother, father, and toddler were among a traumatized crowd who witnessed a monkey latch on to a seagull that landed atop his cage and begin to pull the bird through the bars -- which would have shredded the creature.

click to enlarge Heave!
  • Heave!
As a bystander shouted "somebody do something!" the man grabbed an apple from the family's picnic basket and launched it. Missed. Tried again. Missed. Yet a piece of the third and final apple, after exploding upon impact with the bars, glanced off the monkey. Momentarily distracted, he released the seagull, which flew off.

The crowd roared. Unfortunately for your humble narrator and his parents, we now had nothing to eat.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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