A tiger lurked in the tall grass at a park in India as gamekeepers tried to shoot it with a dart gun and missed. The animal suddenly sprang from the grass, sailed through the air and took a swipe at a man sitting on an elephant's back.
The man lost three fingers.
"I could never imagine that a tiger could so effortlessly leap from the ground on to an adult elephant's head, which is at least 12 feet (nearly 4 meters) above the ground," Vivek Menon, executive director of Wildlife Trust of India, said of the 2004 attack, a video of which has been circulating on YouTube.
That attack—along with other examples of explosive encounters with tigers—are being included in a debate that began after a 350-pound (160-kilogram) Siberian tiger climbed over the 12 1/2-foot (4-meter) wall around its pen at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day and mauled three visitors, killing one.
Among the questions experts are now asking: How high can tigers jump? And have zoos and sanctuaries dangerously underestimated tigers?
That is to say: Are the walls high enough?
"We are evaluating that right now," said Vernon Weir, director of the American Sanctuary Association, which has about 35 members, only a few of which have big cats. The ASA accredits sanctuaries and in the past recommended 12-foot (4-meter) fences for tigers.
Similarly the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which accredits the nation's zoos, may adjust its 16.4-foot (5-meter) wall-height recommendation for tigers once it learns fully what happened in San Francisco, spokesperson Steve Feldman said.
In San Francisco the wall was well below the AZA minimum. But several other major U.S. zoos appear to meet or exceed the standards, with high walls topped in many cases with electrified wire or pronounced overhangs to prevent tigers from pulling themselves up and over the side.
Animal experts said they aren't aware of any hard numbers about the precise leaping ability of tigers. They said it depends on the animal and whether it has been taunted, as may have happened in the San Francisco tragedy.