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Elegy for the king and queen

You probably heard a chimp and a tiger died at Lowry Park. But you should know Herman and Enshalla.

By THOMAS FRENCH
Published October 1, 2006


 
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Herman the chimpanzee at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa in 2004.
Go to video
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Shown in 2005, Enshalla, a Sumatran tiger at the Lowry Park Zoo, was shot and killed by zoo director Lex Salisbury after she escaped from her night house Aug. 22, 2006 while visitors were still at the park.
Go to photo gallery
Map: The death of a tiger
A copy of the receipt for the purchase of Herman the chimp.
[Times files]
Herman at the former Lowry Park Zoo in 1972.
[Lowry Park Zoo photo]
Herman is on the top of the tree, Alex on the bottom.
Related stories:
One minute, harmony; the next, chimp mayhem
Lowry Park Zoo officials are trying to figure out what started a fatal fight between two long-friendly male chimps. [June 10, 2006]
Zoo veteran died of heart failure after altercation
Herman the chimpanzee, a fixture at Lowry Park Zoo for more than four decades, had underlying heart disease when he slipped into a coma and died after a brawl with another chimp [August 2, 2006]

Loose tiger killed at zoo
The president of Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa shoots the cat to protect a veterinarian, who had tried to tranquilize it. [Aug. 23, 2006]
Zoo: New keeper at fault in death
Lowry Park officials say a zookeeper hired a month ago failed to lock a tiger's cage, leading to her fatal shooting. Also, Tampa police say zoo officials should have told them as soon as they knew the tiger had escaped. [Aug. 24, 2006]
As tiger leapt, zoo director had no doubt
Lex Salisbury says he acquired his business-like, take-charge style growing up in Alaska. [Aug. 25, 2006]
Lowry zoo fires man who left door unlocked
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends a criminal charge against the newer zookeeper. [Aug. 26, 2006]

Let us pay respect to fallen royalty.

His early life unfolded like something coauthored by Dickens and Darwin. As an infant he was taken from his mother - he almost certainly saw her die trying to protect him - then sold in an orange crate for $25 and a thumbprint.

He was carried across an ocean, installed inside a cage, taught to depend on the imperfect love of strangers. He charmed Jane Goodall, threw dirt at the mayor of Tampa, learned to blow kisses and smoke cigarettes, whatever it took to entertain the masses. Although he was afforded the sexual privileges conferred by rank, he never chose a mate. He had no interest in females of his own kind. He preferred blonds in tank tops.

He reigned through the death of one zoo and the birth of another. He proved himself a benevolent leader who knew how to keep the peace and observe the social formalities. He was a good listener. He was loyal and forgiving. Looking into his brown eyes, his keepers had no doubt he possessed a soul.

Altogether he lived at Lowry Park Zoo for 35 years. He lasted there longer than any other creature and longer than any of the humans. Each of the 1,800 animals at the zoo is assigned a number. His was 00001.

* * *

She was born with her eyes closed in a den less than a hundred yards away from his kingdom. She grew up hearing his hoots and cries. Like nearly everyone else at the zoo, he undoubtedly would have heard her roars and moans.

By human standards, her family history was a Greek tragedy. Her father and mother were brought from two continents and paired at Lowry Park. Her mother accidentally killed their first cub. Later, her father killed her mother.

She was perhaps the most beautiful creature

at the zoo and certainly one of the most fierce. When suitors were presented for her approval, she flirted with them, chuffed at them, occasionally let them near. But she also stalked them as though they were her prey.

Words have not been invented to convey how she moved. Everything she did - even the way she curled on the ground for an afternoon nap - radiated both fluid grace and a sense of terrible power, held in check.

She liked the smell of cinnamon, the taste of horseflesh. Her exhibit was littered with bones and blood and enshrouded with her scent, which she sprayed to declare her supremacy. When darkness approached and it was time to return to her night house, she would sometimes refuse to budge if she did not like whoever was summoning her inside.

One of her longtime keepers - someone who pampered her and always remembered her birthday - called her "the queen of the zoo."

* * *

The queen's name was Enshalla. She was a Sumatran tiger, among the last to walk this planet.

The king's name was Herman. He was the alpha male of the zoo's chimpanzee group.

Now, suddenly, both are gone, killed this summer in two violent incidents that have shocked the community and left the staff at Lowry Park reeling.

Inside any zoo, death is part of the daily fabric. Rabbits disappear down the digestive tracts of reticulated pythons. Seahorses give birth to dozens of offspring, most of whom perish when they're still just specks in the water.

The losses of Herman and Enshalla hit much harder. They had names and undeniable personalities. In the vernacular of zookeeping, they were charismatic mammals - easily among the most beloved in the zoo's five-decade history.

Their deaths have been followed by a chorus of accusations and investigations and another round of the endless debate about the ethics of placing animals on display, even in the name of conservation.

Lost in the clamor are Herman and Enshalla themselves. Their surprising histories. Their habits and quirks. The complexity of their relationships with others of their species, and with the humans who watched over them.

How they lived and how they died.

* * *

Liberia, December 1966. An American named Ed Schultz, working for an iron ore mining company in the west African port of Buchanan, heard that someone at the mess hall was selling baby chimps.

Schultz knew all about the bushmeat trade. Hunters kill adult chimpanzees, knocking them from the trees, then sell their flesh for food and their young as pets. Schultz saw this as a chance to save one of those babies.

He still remembers that day. He went to the mess hall, he says, and found the man waiting with an open orange crate. Inside were two chimps, each only a few weeks old. One looked up at Schultz and reached up with both arms.

"You're my Herman," said Schultz, scooping up the chimp. He didn't know where the name came from. It just seemed right.

Schultz paid $25 in cash, got a receipt marked with a thumbprint - the seller didn't know how to write - then took Herman home to meet his wife and two children.

At first, they fed him from a bottle and put him in diapers. A few months later, they started caring for another young chimp, a female named Gitta. As a baby, Gitta had been abused. Now, she clung to Herman and rocked nervously back and forth. Herman tolerated her neediness. Even then, he seemed more patient than other chimps.

As Herman grew older, the Schultz family taught him to sit at a table and drink from a cup and eat his fruit without making too much of a mess. They tickled his feet and carried him on their shoulders like a toddler and took him swimming at the quarry. As the Schultz children grew, their parents would mark their changing height on the wall. As Herman and Gitta grew, height marks were made for them, too.

"He was probably as close to a human as a chimp could be," Roger Schultz, Ed's son, says of Herman. "I don't think he really believed he was a chimp."

The iron ore company where Ed worked in Liberia employed people from around the world, including an abundance from Sweden. At parties and picnics, Herman - young, impressionable and decidedly male - was constantly being swept up in the arms of Swedish women.

The Schultz family hoped that Herman would eventually mate with Gitta, but it never happened. All that time among Swedes had apparently left him with a weakness for blonds.

Comic as this may sound, Herman's cross-species fixation would prevent him from ever having offspring of his own. Though he was friendly to Gitta and other female chimps, his preference for human women would isolate him genetically, cutting him off from the future.

A year or so later, the Schultzes headed back to the states, bringing Herman and Gitta with them. First they lived outside Cleveland, then moved to Brandon. Ed worked as a manager for a phosphate company in Tampa. By the time Herman and Gitta were 5, they were growing to a size where they could no longer stay with the family. Adult chimps are big - much bigger than most people realize, sometimes weighing close to 130 pounds - and much stronger than humans. Even in the presence of those close to them, chimps are volatile. When they get upset or angry, they simply react.

"A chimp, at 8 years old, can take your finger right off with his teeth," says Schultz.

In 1971, after looking for a new home for Herman and Gitta, Schultz decided to donate them to Lowry Park Zoo, which at the time was run by the city of Tampa. In exchange, the family insisted that Herman and Gitta live out their lives at the zoo, without being transferred to another facility, possibly ending up in some research lab.

"We weren't going to let anybody put an electrode in Herman's head," says Roger Schultz.

In those days, Lowry Park had a reputation as a stark and sometimes even grim place. Residents who grew up attending the old zoo still talk about how depressing it was, watching a handful of animals pacing back and forth inside their antiquated cages.

"It was a rat hole," said one city council member.

Still, to Schultz, Lowry Park seemed like the best choice for his chimps. The zoo was ready to give Herman and Gitta a cage of their own, separate from another chimp known for his aggressiveness. They had also agreed to let Schultz visit Herman and Gitta and hold them if he still felt safe enough to get close.

On the day of the big move, the Schultz family drove the chimps to downtown Tampa for a ceremonial visit at City Hall. A Tampa Tribune photographer took pictures of Mayor Dick Greco hamming it up with the chimps. One shot showed them seated beside Greco, pondering the city budget.

The staged frivolity did not take away the emotion of the day. It must have been confusing for Herman and Gitta to suddenly be deposited behind bars after years of relative freedom. For the Schultzes, it was gut-wrenching. The entire family escorted Herman and Gitta to the zoo - Ed still remembers Herman scaling a light pole on the way in - and then climbed with them inside their cage.

Roger and his little sister Sandy understood the reasons for the move. But the children could not help crying as they said goodbye.

* * *

For Herman, it was the start of another new life. First he had clung to his mother in the forest, then he had been adopted by his human family. Now he was on display for a never-ending parade of new faces. Already drawn to people, Herman began to perform for them. He flirted, clapped, blew kisses. People tossed him lit cigarettes, so he smoked for them.

When he was upset, he acted out. Other captive chimps will sometimes throw their droppings. Herman, fastidious about his bodily functions after growing up with diapers, had no interest in touching his droppings. Instead he threw dirt. Even Mayor Greco became a target one day when he came to visit.

Mostly, though, Herman was known for his relatively benign temperament. When Jane Goodall visited in 1987, she fell for him instantly, praising his glossy coat, pleasant personality and the "lovely open expression on his face."

"Wonderful," she called him.

It's impossible to say how many people Herman charmed in his many years at the zoo. A conservative estimate would be well over a million.

Herman lost his closest companion when Gitta died of a viral infection in the late '80s. By then, the zoo was reinventing itself. After years of complaints about the conditions, the city closed the facility and handed operations to the Lowry Park Zoological Society, a nonprofit organization that replaced the old cages with more natural and open exhibits. The chimps got a new home equipped with a tree and rocks and a waterfall and more room for them to move and climb.

Soon, Herman was enjoying a perch beside the waterfall and proclaiming his dominance through dramatic displays such as stomping and rocking his body.

In those early years, it was just him, a female named Rukiya, and two sisters, Jamie and Twiggy, and a young male named Chester. One day Chester, growing older and more confident, challenged Herman and ousted him as the alpha male.

Chester, it turned out, was a problem. He had a talent for climbing up the rock wall beside the waterfall and eluding the electrical wire that ran across the top of the rocks. He never went anywhere; when he saw the keepers coming, he simply climbed back down into the exhibit.

These excursions did not bode well. What if Chester really got out and hurt someone? Soon he was shipped to another zoo, and Herman reclaimed his position at the top of the hierarchy.

* * *

The possibility of an escaped animal was something Lowry Park took seriously. The keepers communicated all day on walkie-talkies. They had different codes for different emergencies. Code Two meant a visitor had fallen or climbed into an exhibit; Code Three meant a venomous snake had bitten a keeper. Code One signified that one of the animals had gotten out.

The staff prepared for Code Ones. They had protocols for different species on the loose - what to do if it was a black bear, a wolf, a clouded leopard - and drills to practice carrying out those protocols. They had a weapons team, made up of keepers who were trained by law enforcement to use firearms, should it become necessary.

Lee Ann Rottman, one of the primate keepers at the time, often considered what it would be like to hear the crackle of the radio and then the words, "Code One, chimp."

"I always go through scenarios in my head," she said. " If Herman got out, if Rukiya got out - what would I do?"

Among the keepers, the joke was that if Herman ever escaped, he'd just find a blond visitor and strip off her clothes.

Still, the keepers knew they had to be careful. Male chimps can be extremely violent. Power struggles sometimes end in fatalities; in the wild, a group of chimps once was observed waging war on another group, hunting down and exterminating the weaker rivals.

"Their culture is just so aggressive - so naturally aggressive," says Andrea Schuch, a former primate keeper at Lowry Park. "It always surprises people."

Though he had his moments of rage, Herman usually maintained a more benign approach. As the years stretched on, he would occasionally fight with the others. The keepers could never be sure what the conflicts were about. But afterward, Herman would always reconcile with the group.

When a baby chimp named Alex was introduced into the group in 1998, Rukiya became his surrogate mother. But it was Herman who refused to leave Alex's side when the baby got his head stuck in some netting. Herman was the group's protector and leader, the one the others turned toward for guidance.

Not long after Alex joined the group, another chimp - a male, a few years older than Herman - was brought to the zoo. When Bamboo arrived, he was obviously unsure of himself. Another dominant male might have ignored him or put him in his place. Not Herman, who accepted Bamboo before any of the others did.

"Herman was never interested in being the alpha male," remembers Kevin McKay, who worked with the chimps for years. "He just did the job because he was supposed to."

At times, he seemed almost uncannily human. Most of the chimps - and many of the other animals at Lowry Park - disliked the zoo's veterinarian, David Murphy, because they associated him with the sting of a tranquilizer dart and other indignities required for their medical care. The dart is rarely used on chimps today because the zoo has come up with less traumatic methods of anesthetizing them.

One day, years before, Dr. Murphy had appeared in the chimp night house with a tranquilizer gun so he could attend to Herman. Murphy was a good shot and almost never missed. But this time, he did.

The other chimps would have run. Herman just picked up the dart, walked over to the mesh and handed it back to Murphy so he could try again.

* * *

Keepers have favorites among the species they work with. In the primate department, some preferred the orangs. Some had a thing for the lemurs.

Lee Ann Rottman's heart, always, was with Herman and his group. Showing the chimps to a newcomer inside the zoo, she would rhapsodize about how handsome Herman was, how smart and thoughtful and considerate of the other chimps, how he managed to be both strong and gentle.

"If I could meet a man like Herman," she'd say, "I would marry him."

Herman felt the same about Rottman, whose hair color fell somewhere along the border between light brown and blond. He thought of her and the other female primate keepers as his. Once, when Rottman's father visited the zoo, he placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder, and Herman exploded, screaming and pounding his body against the walls of the exhibit.

Sometimes, when she was having a bad day, Rottman would go into the night house and sit beside Herman and share her troubles.

Through the mesh, Herman would listen.

* * *

Enshalla's life was so much simpler. Everything about her was clean and clear and imbued with ferocious purity. Unlike Herman, she never betrayed the slightest confusion about who or what she was.

She didn't perform. She didn't accommodate or negotiate. She was a tiger through and through, with almost no interest in humans, except when they brought her another slab of horse ribs. Sometimes, when keepers worked in her night house, she would wait until their backs were turned, then leap toward them against the mesh, growling and hissing.

"What I loved about her the most was that she was nasty," says Pam Noel, the assistant curator in charge of the zoo's Asia section. "She was true to her species."

Enshalla ignored the visitors who swarmed at the picture window overlooking her exhibit. People would point and pound the glass. They would call out "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." Enshalla, lounging a few feet away, would gaze in the opposite direction with regal indifference.

"Not even a twitch of her ear," says Noel.

Enshalla's parents, Sumatran tigers named Dutch and Tuka, had come from institutions in Rotterdam and San Diego. Dutch had a reputation as an aggressive male, but Tuka held her own, at least for a while. She was strong and domineering and not afraid to snarl at him despite his bigger size.

Tigers tend to be solitary animals, highly protective of their territories, and when two males cross paths, their conflicts sometimes end in death. Males and females typically don't meet unless the female is in estrus; even then, the male may kill the female. And once a female gives birth, it's not uncommon for her to kill a cub, either accidentally or to protect it from another threat.

Dutch and Tuka lost their first cub, Shere-Khan, to just such an accident. The cub was only two months old when Tuka killed him in their exhibit, in public view. Witnesses reported that she picked up the cub by his throat instead of by the scruff at the back of his neck. As she held him, seemingly unaware of his distress, Shere-Khan struggled and suffocated. Once he went still, Tuka carried his body to the pool at the front of the exhibit. As sobbing visitors watched, she pulled the limp cub through the water, as though she were trying to revive him.

Six months later, Dutch and Tuka had another cub, a female named Kecil. On Aug. 24, 1991, Tuka gave birth to a litter of three more cubs - Raja, Sacha and Enshalla. For the first few months, the cubs stayed inside Tuka's den, nursing and walking on wobbly legs. For their protection, they were kept separate from their father.

Near the end of this period, Tuka's keepers decided to briefly take Enshalla from her mother, too. Enshalla had a sore behind her ear and the keepers had noticed that Tuka was over-compensating, licking the sore incessantly. To give Enshalla a chance to heal, they hand-raised the cub for a couple weeks, taking turns bringing her to their homes at night.

Ged Caddick, then the assistant general curator, remembers the young Enshalla padding across the wood floors of his south Tampa home. She slept in a pet carrier in the kitchen and accepted late-night feedings from a bottle filled with a gruel of formula and meat powder. Even then, she was far from docile. She wasn't eager to be picked up. She had no desire to cuddle.

"She wasn't aggressive, but she wasn't seeking human companionship," recalls Caddick. Still, he says, "she was cute as dickens - cute as can be."

Enshalla was soon returned to Tuka. That November, she and her siblings were introduced to the public. News photos from that day show the three cubs batting paws and roaming the exhibit with their mother watching nearby.

As the cubs turned 1, they were sent to other zoos. Kecil had been transferred, too. Lowry Park's tiger exhibit was not big enough to hold them all as they grew older. Enshalla was sent to the Panama City zoo.

Dutch and Tuka were alone again. They seemed to be getting along until one spring day in 1994, when something set them off. When the brief fight was over, Dutch had killed Tuka, crushing her windpipe.

Eventually, Dutch was sent to the Louisville Zoo. Enshalla was brought back from Panama City in 1994. By then, she was turning 3, a young adult. Enshalla was ready to claim her kingdom.

* * *

Over the next decade, several male Sumatrans were rotated into the exhibit. With each of them, there was no doubt who was in charge. The males had size and brute strength on their side. But Enshalla, relatively petite at 180 pounds, prevailed with the force of her personality and will.

She chased the males, cornered them, made it clear that the exhibit was hers and that she would do as she pleased. If she was in estrus, she would rub her cheeks against theirs, roll over playfully in front of them - give all the signals that she was ready to mate. But when they dared get close, she would often turn on them or run away.

The keepers admired her refusal to submit, either to other tigers or to humans. Even when the keepers fed her, leaving her meat inside her den, Enshalla would growl at them to get out and let her eat in peace.

"She was never friendly," says Noel, the assistant curator. "I worked with her for almost nine years. She knew me and was familiar with me. I wouldn't say she liked me."

Enshalla's keepers were trained to check and recheck every lock in her night house. They kept their distance from her and the other tigers; they were never in the same enclosure with them.

The precautions did not lessen the heart-quickening awe Enshalla inspired. In the early mornings, when she was still in her den and the keepers went into her empty exhibit to clean and rake, they saw horse ribs scattered on the ground and smelled the pungent scent she'd sprayed to mark her territory. Standing in that place, they knew they were no longer at the top of the food chain.

They did their best to let her know they loved her. They sprinkled nutmeg and cinnamon and peppermint around the exhibit because she enjoyed rolling in them. They sprayed perfumes as well, knowing she liked the musky ones best. Her favorite was Obsession.

At Halloween, they gave her pumpkins to tear open. For Cinco de Mayo, they gave her a piata stuffed with horsemeat. They even learned to chuff - a sound, similar to a cough, that tigers use for greeting. Sometimes, she chuffed back.

One of her keepers, Carie Peterson, showered her with sweet-talk.

"Hi, baby girl," Peterson called out to her one morning in 2004 as she showed a visitor around the Asia section. "Hey, princess."

Enshalla answered with a half-roar, half-snort.

Peterson loved the deep orange of Enshalla's coat, her haughty confidence, the daintiness with which she approached the pond in her exhibit, trying not to get too wet. She joked that Enshalla was hers and hers alone.

"She's my cat," Peterson would say. "If she ever leaves, I'm leaving with her."

As much as they respected Enshalla's independence, Peterson and the other keepers were hoping the tiger would finally have her first litter. For that to happen, she would have to surrender - or be conquered - if only for the few moments required for a male to impregnate her.

Her prospective mate was Eric, a young male from the National Zoo. Eric was nave and inexperienced. For a tiger, he was laid back - almost too laid back for the task before him. But when Enshalla went into estrus and began chuffing at Eric from her den, the keepers put them together.

By now, Enshalla was approaching her 14th birthday. Her life expectancy was for only a few more years. It was possible that Eric offered her last chance to have cubs.

As the two cats examined each other, Peterson watched. She positioned herself across the tiger pond, under the cramped space beneath the boardwalk that overlooked the exhibit. Beside her she kept a high-pressure hose, ready to spray if either tiger attacked the other.

Enshalla wasn't stalking Eric, or jumping on his back, like she'd done before. Instead she kept running around the perimeter of the exhibit, with Eric following close behind. When she was ready, she stopped and lowered herself to the ground, lifting her backside a little. But when Eric started to climb on, she jumped up and hurried away.

"She just gets so nervous," said Peterson.

This happened at least a dozen times that morning. Enshalla would stop and invite Eric to get close, then bolt. Finally, Eric grew tired of the charade. He found a shady spot and lay down.

From under the boardwalk, Peterson called out encouragement to the two lovers. She told Eric to be forceful, to keep trying. She told Enshalla to calm down.

"Sweetie," she said, "you just need to relax."

Enshalla did not look toward her keeper. Instead she nudged Eric in the shoulder, then went back to her circling. Slowly Eric got up and returned to the chase.

Despite the male's best efforts, Enshalla did not get pregnant. In the months that followed, the keepers kept pairing the two of them together, hoping. But no luck.

* * *

Herman's death seemed to come out of nowhere.

This past spring, as he neared his 40th birthday, Herman's chin hair was turning silver. He was getting older, but did not yet qualify as ancient. In captivity, chimps can live to be 55.

Herman had slowed down a little. But he still displayed for his fans, stomping around and bristling his hair to make himself look bigger. He still flirted with blond moms pushing strollers. Most of the time, the moms had no idea how deeply they stirred him.

From time to time, new keepers arrived at the zoo. In the night house, Herman would extend his fingers through an opening in the mesh, offering to put the fingers in their mouths. In chimp language, this was an expression of faith, demonstrating that he believed the keepers would not bite off the digits. Herman trusted them, and therefore they should trust him.

"He was a good teacher," explained Lee Ann Rottman, who had been promoted to the position of the zoo's general curator. "He taught a good many zookeepers here how to love chimps and work chimps."

Ed Schultz, Herman's old friend, still came to see him. Schultz had retired years before and now worked as a docent at the zoo. Standing in front of the chimp exhibit, Schultz would still signal to Herman, talk to him, let him know he had not forgotten their years together.

"That's my son," Ed would tell people.

Bamboo, the group's older male, remained at the bottom of the hierarchy. Sometimes, the three females - Rukiya, Twiggy and Jamie - picked on Bamboo. The females knew how to manipulate conflicts. If Herman was mad at them, they would scream and act as though Bamboo had done something wrong and then chase him, leading Herman to forget about them and take after Bamboo, too. The females were savvy enough to redirect Herman's aggression; the keepers had seen it many times.

"The girls are smart," said Rottman. "I love them, but they can be evil."

Most of the time, Herman and Bamboo got along fine. After their years together, they'd grown close. When the females were off in another corner, Herman and Bamboo would play.

"Everybody considered them buddies," said David Murphy, the vet. "They were like two old gentlemen, rolling around on the ground, laughing and tickling each other."

Alex, the orphaned male that Rukiya adopted, was no longer a baby. Almost 10 years old, Alex had entered adolescence, and showed it every day. He would race around the exhibit, hurling himself into the moat, mimicking Herman's alpha displays. His keepers agreed that Rukiya was too lenient a parent and that Herman was too indulgent to discipline him. What would Alex be like, they wondered, if he ever became the group's leader?

Rukiya was on the verge of getting another baby. An infant female at the Montgomery Zoo had been rejected by her birth mother. Rottman had arranged for the baby - her name was Sasha - to be brought to Lowry Park. The plan was to slowly introduce her to the group, just as Alex had been introduced years before, and give Rukiya a chance to become her surrogate mom, too.

Rottman beamed whenever she held Sasha. In those first weeks, while they prepared to introduce the baby to the group, Rottman and the other keepers took Sasha home at night and bottle-fed her formula. She was light and soft and full of energy. She already loved her keepers, especially males. When she saw a man, she would immediately raise her arms for him to pick her up, just as Herman had raised his arms to Ed Schultz so many years before.

By early June, Sasha had been introduced to both Rukiya and Twiggy. The keepers placed her in a small cage - a "howdy cage," Rottman called it - beside the area of the night house that belonged to the females. This gave both the baby and the females a chance to see and smell one another. It was their way of becoming acquainted, and if it went well, the next step would be to place Sasha in the same enclosure with Rukiya.

Chimps are highly sensitive to change. But as far as Rottman could tell, Sasha was causing no ripples in the group. Herman and Bamboo had recently tangled. The fight had seemed a little more intense than some of their previous squabbles; both of the males had suffered bite wounds. But afterward they seemed to make up, like always.

Watching the chimps one day, Rottman noticed Rukiya sitting behind Bamboo, grooming the hair on his back. Rottman thought this was a little unusual, because she'd never seen Rukiya groom him. Still, after the bullying the females inflicted on Bamboo, it was reassuring to see him and Rukiya getting along.

That's nice, Rottman told herself.

* * *

The emergency call went over the radio just after noon on Thursday, June 8. The chimps were fighting. They would not stop. The keepers needed help.

Rottman happened to be working in the primate area that day. She and the other keepers did not witness the start of the fight. But when they heard the commotion from the exhibit, they rushed out and saw Bamboo and Rukiya attacking Herman. Alex, standing nearby, was flailing, too, trying to defend Herman.

The keepers tried to break it up. They got Alex and Rukiya and the other females into the night house. They brought out hoses and sprayed Bamboo. But nothing stopped him. Soon Herman was on the ground, sitting cross-legged, slumped over, his head down. He was not moving, even as Bamboo pounded him.

Security was removing the visitors who happened to be there as the fight began. Dr. Murphy arrived and went around to the high wall of mesh that covers the back of the exhibit. Recounting the incident later, Murphy said that Bamboo was clearly not just upset, but confused and frightened. He kept running up to Murphy and grinning with his mouth open - a chimp signal for fear. Then Bamboo went back to Herman to hit him again.

Murphy tried to dart Bamboo, but couldn't get a clear shot. He and one of the primate keepers waited until Bamboo moved away, then hurried into the exhibit and dragged Herman into the night house to examine him. He was still breathing.

At the clinic, Murphy checked Herman for shock, got an IV running, cleaned him up and examined him more closely. His external injuries - a few puncture wounds on his lip, a torn-up finger and toe - did not appear catastrophic. His pupils and his breathing pattern made Murphy wonder if he had suffered neurological trauma. Maybe during the attack he had fallen; maybe Bamboo had hit him hard enough to knock him out.

As Murphy continued his examination, Rottman and Angela Belcher, the assistant curator in charge of primates, stood nearby and talked to Herman, trying to revive him. But he would not wake up. He had slipped into a coma.

Leaving the others to watch over the chimp, Murphy went to the zoo's manatee hospital, where the keepers had brought a sedated Rukiya for a few stitches on her nose. Murphy was still working on her when a call came from the clinic not long before 7 p.m. Herman had stopped breathing.

Rushing back, the vet found people taking turns performing CPR on Herman's 90-pound body. Murphy tried for a while, then Rottman took over. They kept at it for 10, 15 minutes.

Rottman didn't want them to stop. She didn't understand why this had happened. She couldn't imagine the zoo without Herman.

Finally, though, she and the others had no choice but to step away from the body.

The king was dead.

* * *

The next day, they allowed Ed Schultz to say goodbye. Rottman and Belcher escorted him to the clinic, into the room where Herman was waiting.

He had been turned onto his side, with one arm stretched across his chest. He had a sheet across the lower half of his body. He looked at peace.

Schultz talked to Herman just as he had ever since the two of them met in that mess hall in Africa. He held his hand. He spoke his name.

* * *

The necropsy report, released several weeks later, found that Herman had died from acute head trauma. He'd also suffered from heart disease.

For many, the news was still hard to believe. Herman had been the embodiment of Lowry Park's history, good and bad. He was the zoo's witness, its elder ambassador, its living memory. Even Lex Salisbury, Lowry Park's president, was a newcomer compared to him. In the mid '80s, when Salisbury arrived, Herman was already 15 years into his reign.

How could he be gone?

As with the deaths of so many legends, rumors circulated. Some wondered if Bamboo had sensed that Herman was ailing, leaving him vulnerable. Other theories suggested that Sasha's arrival had altered the group's power dynamics, spurring the lowly Bamboo to plot a coup.

Rottman, inconsolable, didn't know what to think. She cried for weeks and had trouble talking about Herman, even with friends.

Bamboo was suffering as well. In the days after the attack, he was seen looking for Herman in the exhibit and the night house. When his companion did not reappear, Bamboo lost much of his appetite. He and the other chimps seemed unsure what to do next.

"They all looked for Herman," says Rottman. "They were all very quiet, and I think very confused."

It was a stressful time at Lowry Park. The staff was working long hours and dealing with constant pressure as the zoo continued to grow. The new Safari Africa exhibit - the largest addition in the zoo's history - was drawing visitors who wanted to see the elephants and feed the giraffes. The Asia section, Enshalla's home, was closed to the public while the exhibits were renovated.

The rapid pace of the changes was wearing people down. The keepers were tired, and some of them felt underpaid and underappreciated. Even some of the veterans were leaving.

Carie Peterson, Enshalla's longtime keeper, resigned in mid July and found another job at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. She said she still loved Lowry Park, but wondered about the zoo's direction. Amid all the expansions, she felt Lowry Park was becoming more like a business than a nonprofit.

She hated leaving her friends and all the animals she'd loved and cared for. At night, she dreamed of Enshalla. She would see the tiger's face, turned toward her, wondering where she had gone.

* * *

About 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22, three awful words came over the keepers' radios.

"Code One tiger."

Enshalla was out. A new keeper, working in the tiger night house, had left a latch unlocked.

As zoo officials would later explain, the keeper had been in a nearby hallway when Enshalla walked past. As he watched, the tiger had slipped out and headed into an empty exhibit. Until recently it had housed a rhino; now it was under construction as part of the Asia department's renovations. The exhibit was near the zoo's entrance, beside a manatee fountain popular with small children.

Lex Salisbury was on I-275 north, headed for his Pasco County ranch, when he got the word on his cell phone. He took the next exit, then headed back toward the zoo. Salisbury knew Enshalla well; he had been at Lowry Park when she was born and remembered her as a cub.

By the time Salisbury arrived, the keepers and other staff members were already following the Code One protocol they had practiced.

It called for an escaped tiger to be tranquilized if the animal could not be coaxed back to its night house. But the drugs don't always work instantly, like in the movies. The speed depends on unpredictable variables - the animal's emotional state, the place where the dart hits the animal. In 1974, at the Knoxville Zoo, a veterinarian fired a tranquilizer dart into an escaped Bengal tiger. The tiger, approximately 25 feet away, leaped onto the vet and mauled him.

"It happened so fast," said a witness, "he didn't have time to move."

At Lowry Park, the Code One had been called so late in the day that the zoo was already clearing out. The remaining visitors had been ushered behind closed doors. Members of the zoo's weapons team were in position around the exhibit where Enshalla had wandered.

The tiger was still there, exploring the exhibit and its construction site. She would lie down for a few minutes, get back up, chew the grass, lie down again. She wasn't roaring or growling.

"She didn't make a sound," says Rottman, who was part of the weapons team.

One of the assistant curators had climbed with a rifle to the top of a nearby building that housed two komodo dragons. Rottman and one of the primate keepers were on the other side of the exhibit, watching from inside a car they had pulled onto the sidewalk. The primate keeper had a 12-gauge shotgun. When Salisbury pulled up, he joined the others in the car.

The exhibit where Enshalla was roaming was surrounded by a moat, but it was a relatively small one designed to keep in a rhino or an elephant. It was not nearly wide enough to contain a tiger. If Enshalla decided to move, she would have no trouble clearing the exhibit.

Luring her back into the night house seemed unlikely. Enshalla showed no signs of being hungry; she had walked past some of her food on her way out.

Soon she was moving again. Leaving the ground of the exhibit, she headed down into the tall elephant grass that filled the moat, making it harder for the weapons team to see her.

By now it was close to 6 p.m. Soon it would be dark. If they were going to attempt to tranquilize her, they needed to do it fast.

Dr. Murphy stepped onto the boardwalk that lined the exhibit, looking for an angle that would allow him to use the tranquilizer gun. Salisbury, armed with the shotgun, stood nearby, ready to cover the vet.

"This cat hates me," said Murphy, trying to keep out of sight.

In the sky above, a news helicopter hovered. The word was already spreading.

Enshalla was still below, partially hidden in the grass. Unable to get his shot, Murphy climbed to the top of a nearby platform while Salisbury stayed on the boardwalk.

The height of the platform gave Murphy the angle he needed. He aimed and fired a dart into Enshalla's neck.

Before the drugs could take effect, Enshalla grew angry. She leapt toward Murphy, clawing her way up the ivy along the platform. She was only a few feet away from him when Salisbury fired the shotgun.

Enshalla, one of perhaps 500 Sumatran tigers left on earth, dropped back into the moat, but continued moving. Salisbury fired three more blasts.

Finally the tiger was still.

* * *

That evening, Carie Peterson was at work when the messages began to show up in her cell phone's voice mail.

"I'm sorry. You need to watch the news," the callers would say, then hang up.

Peterson didn't know what to think. There was no explanation. Driving home along Hillsborough Avenue, she decided to phone a friend at the zoo.

"What's wrong?" Peterson asked her. "What happened?"

The friend said she'd tell her, but insisted Peterson pull over to the side of the road first.

By the time Peterson stopped, she had already guessed. "What is it," she said. "Is Enshalla dead?"

A pause on the other end, then the friend said yes.

Peterson began to scream.

* * *

First Herman, overthrown and killed by his old friend. Now Enshalla, shot in mid lunge by the zoo's CEO.

TV crews were asking for interviews. Zoo officials were calling to express condolences and share anecdotes about their own close calls with escaped lions and tigers.

There were press conferences, angry letters to the editor, protests from animal rights organizations.

Things got worse when it was confirmed that the keeper who had let Enshalla escape had been on staff at Lowry Park for only a month and had apparently never before worked with large carnivores.

The identity of the keeper was not released. By all accounts, he was devastated. Lowry Park fired him. A state wildlife inspector recommended that he be charged with unsafe handling of an animal, a misdemeanor.

Brian Czarnik, a keeper who left the Asia department only a month before the shooting, remembers Enshalla well. Czarnik is critical of Salisbury and some of Lowry Park's policies. He believes that the zoo should not have allowed such an inexperienced employee to work with tigers. Still, he says, once Enshalla attacked, Salisbury had no choice but to pull the trigger.

"That's his only option," says Czarnik.

What's striking, when you talk to Enshalla's keepers, is her complete fidelity to her nature. Even in her last moments, leaping through the air, claws out, she retained the same fierce purity she had shown since she was a cub.

The queen could be brought down. But never tamed.

* * *

In the primate area, there is talk of a statue.

The keepers would like some way to remember Herman. The zoo is considering a bronzed figure, to be placed in front of the chimp exhibit. Something respectful. Something that would allow him to reign on.

The chimp group has stabilized, at least for the moment. Bamboo has become the alpha male. Sasha has accepted Rukiya as her surrogate mother and is extremely attached to Bamboo. One night, not long ago, she climbed into his nest in the night house and slept beside the new king.

Now that some time has passed, Lee Ann Rottman is able to talk a little about Herman. She admits she's still mystified by what happened. But she has thought a lot about why Bamboo might have gone after Herman, and she has a theory. She can't prove it, but to her it makes the most sense. Whatever transpired, she believes Rukiya was at the center of it.

She thinks back to the earlier fight between Bamboo and Herman, the week before Herman died. She thinks about the day she saw Rukiya grooming Bamboo. About all the times she observed Rukiya and the other females manipulating Herman and Bamboo. Somehow, she believes, Rukiya quietly nudged Bamboo into action.

"I think Rukiya instigated," says Rottman. "I love her dearly. ... But I think she had a very big hand in starting the fight."

To her, it seems unlikely that Bamboo would have attacked Herman on his own, without encouragement. But why would Rukiya have shifted her allegiance? What was her motive?

Rottman does not believe it had anything to do with Sasha's introduction into the group. Her theory: Rukiya orchestrated the coup to make room for her adopted son.

"Is she planning for Alex to take over?" Rottman wonders. "Is she priming Alex?"

Bamboo is old and weak and not likely to withstand a serious challenge. Alex is young and strong, and growing stronger.

Even if Rottman's guess is not correct - even if Rukiya had nothing to do with planning the attack - it's not hard to envision Alex assuming the throne.

Whatever happens, Herman will not be forgotten. Rottman has made a list of all the things she loved about him. To name a few:

He liked to have his nails done

Even when he was mad he always gave warning and was never sneaky

He was a good judge of character

* * *

Ed Schultz doesn't come to the zoo much anymore. He can't bring himself to look out into the chimp exhibit and not see his friend, waiting for him.

"I just can't put myself together on that," he says.

Schultz is 81. His wife Elizabeth died years ago; Roger and Sandy are grown, with families of their own. His hearing isn't so good. He forgets things he wishes he could remember.

Inside his Town 'N Country home, photos of Herman hang next to portraits of Schultz's children and grandchildren. In the living room, he keeps an urn with some of Herman's ashes.

When Schultz lifted Herman from the orange crate, all those years ago, he had no idea what that embrace would mean.

"Half of my life with that little fella," he says, his voice wavering. "Didn't we ever love him."

Thomas French can be reached at french@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8486. Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this story.

ABOUT THE STORY

Thomas French and Stefanie Boyar, a Times staff reporter and photographer, have been chronicling life at Lowry Park for more than two years. Working on a larger project about the zoo, they were following Herman and Enshalla long before their deaths.

Much of this story is based on that reporting. Many of the details, including the thwarted tiger courtship, were witnessed firsthand. Other scenes, including the two animals' deaths, are based on interviews with zoo officials including Lex Salisbury and David Murphy, current and former keepers and others who knew Herman and Enshalla.

 

[Last modified October 6, 2006, 10:12:08]


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