Man Enters Bear Enclosure at San Francisco Zoo

September 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police in San Francisco are now investigating the man who they said got too close to some grizzly bears. On Saturday the man managed to get into their enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo.Not only do zoo officials have no idea why a transient man decided to climb into an enclosure with two 500 pound female grizzly bears, they still don't know exactly how he did it.

"This takes a very concerted and direct effort on the individual's part," said Bob Jenkins with the San Francisco Zoo.

The barriers Kenneth Herron managed to get past include a 14 foot deep moat, a 15-20 foot tall wall, and hot wires that surround virtually the entire enclosure; all designed to keep the animals in, not necessarily keep humans out.

"Suffice to say, anyone who enters a cage with a wild animal is someone who may have some kind of mental problems," said Capt. John Luftus.

Police said Herron underwent a psychiatric evaluation. "The individual, based on my own observations, was totally incommunicative with the P.D. was stoic in his response; almost zombie like."

A crowd of people watched in fear as zoo staff swarmed the enclosure and tried to distract one of the bears as it curiously hovered over Herron and took a few swats at his foot.

"There was a gunshot that started everyone in the crowd," said witness Bob Whiteman.

That warning shot fired by a zoo keeper from a 12-gauge shotgun seemed to work. All the while, Herron lay there frozen.

"He didn't move the entire time. His feet did not move. The bear was standing right over him... Nothing," said witness Nica De Stefano.

Zoo officials said saying frozen was about the only thing he did right. "If he had tried to hit the bear or shoo it or something like that it would have probably evoked a deadly response."

A deadly response, such as the one at the zoo in 2007, when a tiger escaped and attacked three people; killing one of them. But this time around, new emergency response plans implemented since then, seemed to work. "Our number one message to the public is that the zoo remains safe and that remains our number one priority," said Zoo Executive Director Tanya Peterson.

San Francisco police said Kenneth Herron has a criminal record, including making threats and carrying a concealed weapon.

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