Monday Oct 02, 2023

Tiger Bites Arm of Man Reaching Into Enclosure at Florida Zoo, Officials Say

A man who worked for a cleaning service at the Naples Zoo in Florida was seriously injured on Wednesday when a tiger bit his arm after he went into a restricted area and reached into the animal’s enclosure, the authorities said.

The first sheriff’s deputy to arrive at the zoo kicked the tiger enclosure and tried to get the animal to release the man’s arm from its mouth but was “forced to shoot” the Malayan tiger, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said.

The zoo said that the 8-year-old tiger, named Eko, which it acquired in December 2019, had died.

The man, later identified as 26-year-old River Rosenquist of Naples, Fla., was taken to a hospital by Collier County emergency medical services, the sheriff’s office said.

A spokesman for Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., confirmed on Wednesday that it was treating a patient who had been bitten by a tiger but said he could not release any further information.

The sheriff’s office said Mr. Rosenquist, who worked for a cleaning service hired by the zoo, had entered an “unauthorized area” near a tiger enclosure after the zoo had closed for the day. The cleaning company is responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not animal enclosures, the sheriff’s office said.

“Preliminary information” indicated that Mr. Rosenquist “was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities,” the sheriff’s office said.

Citing “initial reports,” the office said that the tiger had grabbed Mr. Rosenquist’s arm and pulled it into the enclosure after he crossed over a fenced barrier and put his arm through the fencing around the enclosure.

Deputies were called to the zoo at 6:26 p.m.

On Thursday, the sheriff’s office released body-camera footage of the encounter. It shows a deputy approaching a man who is screaming in anguish and pleading for help, his arm in the tiger’s mouth. After the deputy asks someone nearby if there is a tranquilizer gun and is told there isn’t one, he fires a single shot at the tiger.

“Our deputy did everything he could do in that situation, and he ultimately made the only possible decision he could in order to save this man’s life,” the Collier County sheriff, Kevin Rambosk, said in a statement. “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility.”

The sheriff’s office said an investigation would determine whether criminal charges would be filed against Mr. Rosenquist.

The zoo declined to comment on Wednesday, beyond sharing the statement from the sheriff’s office.

In February 2020, the Naples Zoo announced that it had acquired Eko from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The zoo said in the announcement that it had funded efforts to save wild tigers for more than two decades.

Malayan tigers have been classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Fewer than 200 of the animals remain in the wild, down from as many as 3,000 in the 1950s, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The fund blamed the decline on loss of habitat because of development, agricultural expansion and hunting.

In its announcement welcoming Eko, the Naples Zoo called the tiger “a great ambassador for his species” and said that when visitors see him, “we hope they fall in love and want to learn how they can do their part to save his cousins in the wild.”

The Naples Zoo, which draws about 370,000 visitors annually, hosts a variety of animals, including African lions, a Florida panther, black bears, a buff-cheeked gibbon and clouded leopards.

Tiger attacks at zoos are rare but not unprecedented.

In 2016, a woman in Beijing was killed by a tiger after she jumped out of a car at an animal park to try to save her daughter from a tiger attack, government officials there said.

In 2007, one person was killed and two others were seriously injured after a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo escaped from its cage shortly after the zoo closed. The tiger was later shot and killed by the authorities, the police said.

The year before, the same tiger bit a keeper at the San Francisco Zoo as at least 50 visitors watched, zoo officials said.

The tiger had reached through the iron bars of her enclosure and grabbed the zookeeper with both front paws shortly after a public feeding, in which keepers typically deliver a meal of fortified horse meat through a small slot, zoo officials said.

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