Zoo Tiger Shot And Killed After Biting Man Who Put Hand Through Fence

·3 min read

A Malayan tiger was shot dead by a sheriff’s deputy at Florida’s Naples Zoo on Wednesday after biting a man who reached through a fence in the big cat’s enclosure.

“Preliminary information indicates that the man was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities,” the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement about the incident.

Eko the tiger in his pool at the Naples Zoo. (Photo: Naples Zoo)
Eko the tiger in his pool at the Naples Zoo. (Photo: Naples Zoo)

The 26-year-old man, an employee of HMI Commercial Cleaning Inc., was seriously injured in the incident. The cleaning service had been hired by the zoo to clean areas like bathrooms and the gift shop, not animal enclosures, according to the sheriff’s office.

At some point after the zoo had closed for the day, the man climbed a 4.5-foot fence that separated the tiger, named Eko, from the public, the Naples Daily News reported. He then put his hand through a second fence, at which point the 8-year-old tiger bit his hand and pulled the man’s arm toward him into the enclosure.

Someone called deputies to the zoo around 6:30 pm. The sheriff’s office ― which has released graphic body camera footage of the incident ― said a deputy initially kicked at the fence and attempted to get Eko to release the man’s arm. When that didn’t work, he shot the tiger. Eko then fled to the back of the enclosure, where a zoo veterinarian went to attend to him but found he had died from the injury.

“It is a very sad day at the zoo,” zoo spokesperson Courtney Jolly told reporters at a Thursday morning press conference. She said the zoo was closed for the day to give zookeepers and other employees “time to process what has happened” and space to grieve.

She also said the zoo ultimately supported the decision of the sheriff’s office to shoot Eko.

“At the end of the day, if a person’s in imminent danger, they have to take that action,” she said.

Jolly did not have an update about the medical status of the cleaning service employee. The sheriff’s office is still determining whether he will face any criminal charges.

Eko had lived at the zoo since December 2019, when he was transferred from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, The New York Times reported. In February 2020, the zoo published a blog post welcoming Eko to the zoo and discussing the plight of critically endangered Malayan tigers, of which there are an estimated fewer than 200 adults in the wild.

“Eko is a great ambassador for his species,” the zoo wrote. “When guests 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 zoo frequently posted photos and videos of the charismatic tiger on Facebook, including wishing him a happy eighth birthday in November and, just Tuesday, sharing a “Tongue Out Tuesday” photo of the big cat licking his nose.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.


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