An 8-year-old Malayan tiger in a Florida zoo was shot to death after grabbing the arm of a cleaner and pulling it into its enclosure Wednesday evening, officials said. The cleaner, who police say breached a barrier to get close to the animal, was airlifted to a hospital and was in serious condition, according to CBS Fort Myers affiliate WINK-TV.
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens says it was closed for the day when the man, who works for a third-party cleaning service, “entered an unauthorized area near a tiger that was inside its enclosure.”
“The cleaning company is responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosures,” the zoo said. It is not clear why the man approached the tiger’s enclosure.
According to the zoo, the man was either petting or feeding the tiger, named Eko, “both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities.” The man was later identified by the Collier County Sheriff’s office as 26-year-old River Rosenquist.
In statement provided to CBS News by the zoo Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office said Rosenquist “put his hand through the enclosure fence,” prompting the tiger to grab his hand and pull his arm into the enclosure. A deputy responded to the scene and tried unsuccessfully to get the tiger to release Rosenquist’s arm, so a fellow officer “was left with no option but to shoot the animal in order to save Rosenquist’s life,” the sheriff’s office said.
Body camera video released by the department showed the man screaming in pain on one side of a fence, with the tiger on the other side with his hand in its mouth. One officer appears to try to prod the tiger in an attempt to scare it off, but the tiger doesn’t move. Soon after, another officer fires a shot.
The tiger retreated to the back of the enclosure after it was shot, making it difficult to determine the extent of its injuries, the sheriff’s office said. A zoo veterinarian later tranquilized the tiger, allowing officials to determine that Eko had been fatally shot.
“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,” Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said in the statement.
The zoo says Malayan tigers are critically endangered, with only about 200 left in the wild.
The zoo mourned Eko’s death on Thursday. “He will be deeply missed and we sincerely appreciate the love and support of the community as we navigate this difficult time,” the zoo said in a statement.