WATCH: Graphic Video Shows Florida Man Mauled By Tiger After Sticking Arm in Cage, Tiger Being Shot By Deputy
An endangered Malayan tiger is dead and a 26-year-old man horrifically injured after he put his arm inside the tiger’s cage at the Naples Zoo in Naples, Florida.
River Rosenquist was working after hours at the zoo Wednesday evening as part of a third-party cleaning service, when he entered “an unauthorized area of the zoo at the tiger enclosure,” according to a Facebook post by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who had responded to the scene.
Rosenquist “breached an initial barrier, put his hand through the enclosure fence and the tiger grabbed it and pulled his arm into the enclosure,” said the CCSO. A report from WZVN, the local ABC affiliate, said that Rosenquist was apparently attempting to pet or feed the tiger, an 8-year-old male named Eko who had been at the Naples Zoo for two years.
For obvious reasons, entering the barrier around the tiger enclosure, much less actually petting or touching the tiger, was not authorized. WINK News, Naples’ CBS station, further reported that zoo officials said that Rosenquist’s company was responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not any of the animal enclosures, so he should not have been anywhere near Eko’s enclosure.
When a CCSO deputy responded to the scene, he initially attempted to get the tiger to release Rosenquist by shouting and kicking the enclosure barrier, but this was unsuccessful.
The deputy asked zoo employees on the scene for a tranquilizer but none was quickly available. “[H]e was left with no option but to shoot the animal in order to save Rosenquist’s life,” the CCSO Facebook post stated, describing how the deputy had fired a single shot, the tiger retreated to the rear of the enclosure, and then collapsed. A drone was sent in to observe the tiger, saw Eko was unresponsive, and the zoo veterinarian administered a tranquilizer and then confirmed that Eko was dead.
“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,” said Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility. We value our community partnership with the Naples Zoo and their focus on conservation and education.”
The zoo created a page on their website to address the incident and express their agreement with the deputy’s actions. “We support the CCSO in addressing an incredibly difficult situation with a human life at risk,” they wrote. “Resolving this situation with a tranquilizer dart would not have been appropriate given the immediate crisis.”
The zoo also noted that Rosenquist was outside the tiger’s enclosure, “in the space between the public barrier and the tiger’s containment,” and would not have been able to actually enter the tiger’s habitat due to the zoo’s “two-key/two-person safety protocol,” which “prevents any single individual ever from willingly or accidentally accessing a dangerous space.”
Along with the CCSO post, the police posted uncensored video footage from the deputy’s bodycam, showing him driving to the zoo to respond to the 911 call, arriving on the scene and hearing screams for help from Rosenquist, observing the tiger biting Rosenquist’s arm, attempting to free him, and finally shooting the tiger.
The deputy and zoo employees then provided medical assistance to Rosenquist, including applying a tourniquet to his badly mangled arm, and he was flown to an area hospital with “serious” injuries.
Warning: the below video is very graphic and includes uncensored footage of Rosenquist’s severe injuries and the deputy shooting the tiger at close range.
The CCSO is currently investigating and will determine if criminal charges will be filed against Rosenquist.
Eko was one of only 300 Malayan tigers left in the world. The Naples Zoo has spent the past two decades raising money to support Malayan tiger conservation efforts, and created a fund in Eko’s name.
“It is a really sad day at the zoo,” Naples Zoo spokeswoman Courtney Jolly told reporters. “We’ve never had an incident with this specific tiger before, we’ve never had anything like this happen at the zoo before, we’ve never had anyone breach a barrier fence and put themselves in this situation.”
The Naples Zoo was closed on Thursday “to allow officials to complete their investigation,” said the zoo in a new statement, and they will begin their own internal investigation into the incident, along with providing a grief counselor for their staff.
The zoo will reopen at 9 am Friday, and they thanked the community “for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us.” Eko “will be deeply missed and we sincerely appreciate the love and support of the community as we navigate this difficult time.”
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