Tiger fatally shot after biting arm of man near enclosure

A sheriff’s deputy shot a Malayan tiger that grabbed the arm of a man who was either feeding or petting the animal at a zoo in southwest Florida, authorities said.

NAPLES, Fla. – A sheriff’s deputy shot a Malayan tiger that grabbed the arm of a man who was either feeding or petting the animal at a zoo in southwest Florida, authorities said.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said the man, a 26-year-old, was seriously injured Wednesday evening when he entered an unauthorized area near the tiger’s enclosure at Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. The man works for a third-party cleaning service contracted to clean restrooms and the gift shop, the sheriff’s office said.

The 8-year-old tiger named Eko later died.

“Preliminary information indicates that the man was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities,” the sheriff’s report said.

Investigators said they believe the tiger grabbed the man’s arm after he breached a barrier fence and put his arm through the fence surrounding the enclosure.

The first deputy to arrive at the scene kicked the enclosure to try to get the tiger to release the man's arm from its mouth. “But the deputy was forced to shoot the animal," the report said.

The man was taken to a hospital in nearby Fort Myers, officials said. His name was not released and his condition was not known Thursday.

According to the sheriff’s office, the tiger retreated back into its enclosure after being shot. Deputies flew a drone inside and found the tiger was not responsive. A veterinarian later sedated the tiger and had planned to examine the animal, the report said.

Curt LoGiudice is the executive director of the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jacksonville. He said the incident demonstrates why extreme care and ample experience is required when dealing with dangerous animals.

“I can’t tell you about other facilities, but I could tell you ours, we go through a routine. Nobody goes in with animals, of course, and animals get shifted into other environments for folks to go into the environments that they may have been in,” he explained.

A similar incident happened at the Jacksonville Zoo this past summer, when a visitor jumped a barrier and stuck his arm inside the fence at the Jaguar exhibit. But in that incident, the Jaguar let go of the man’s arm and the animal was not harmed.

Jacksonville Zoo veterinarian Dr. Yousuf Jafarey says zoo employees are required to be prepared for dangerous scenarios.

“We do practice regular drills here at the zoo of various scenarios and situations, whether it be an animal escape or a situation where a person may be in an unauthorized area,” Jafarey said.

Jafarey says the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, along with a highly trained security staff, also take part in those safety drills.

Jacksonville Zoo also has a Malayan tiger named Jaya. Jafarey says Jaya can be just as dangerous as Eko if someone decides to enter their space without taking safety precautions.

“Even if they are found in captive situations, they can be lethal. They are very dangerous animals and that’s why we have safety precautions in place and we only work with them in protected contact,” he said.

The doctor says one of the advantages of having JSO and JFRD take part in their drills is that it helps the first responders learn their way around the entire zoo. In the body cam video from Collier County, the deputy appeared to need guidance to the tiger exhibit.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation.

On Tuesday, the zoo’s Facebook page featured a photo of Eko. A statement from the zoo reads:

“Thank you for patience through this difficult situation. Our team has been working very closely with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to ensure information has been shared accurately and as timely as possible.

“It is a very sad day at Naples Zoo, we have lost our Malayan tiger, Eko. He was 8 years old and he came to Naples Zoo in December of 2019. He will be deeply missed and we sincerely appreciate the love and support of the community as we navigate this difficult time.

“The decision to close today was made to allow officials to complete their investigation late into the evening.

“This decision was also made to allow the Zoo to begin its own internal investigation and to allow our staff to process what has occurred and to begin the painful healing process. A grief counselor will be available for staff beginning today.

“We will reopen at 9am tomorrow and we thank our community for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us.”

The Malayan tiger is one of the smallest tiger species found throughout the southern and central Malay Peninsula and southern parts of Thailand, according to Malaysian Wildlife. It is the national symbol of Malaysia.

In 2016, a Malayan tiger attacked and killed a zookeeper at the Palm Beach Zoo. An autopsy found that Stacey Konwiser, 38, died of a fractured spine, a lacerated jugular and other neck injuries suffered when she was attacked by the 12-year-old tiger named Hati.

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