Critically endangered tiger killed after man sticks his hand in animal’s cage

Tiger lies in water and looks into camera
Eko the tiger at Naples Zoo, March, 2021, photo: Naples Zoo via Reuters

A critically endangered Malayan tiger was shot and killed on Wednesday at Naples Zoo in Florida in the United States. Police decided to shoot the nine-year-old male Malayan tiger Eko in the head when the animal did not let go of a man’s arm through a fence.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said the 26-year-old man, an employee of a cleaning service contracted by Naples Zoo, “was in an unauthorized area of the zoo at the tiger enclosure after the zoo closed Wednesday.”

After breaching an initial barrier, the man “put his hand through the enclosure fence, and the tiger grabbed it and pulled his arm into the enclosure”, the sheriff’s office said on Facebook.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office released the 911-call the man made pleading for help and the body-camera footage of the police officer who shot the tiger.

The man was able to call 911 with his other hand and was screaming for help: “Please help me, he’s going to rip my arm off. You gotta shoot it [the tiger]! You gotta shoot it. It’s ripping my arm off. Oh my god, kill it, kill it. My arm, my arm.” The man also repeatedly told the operator: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

When police arrived at the scene, they’re heard saying, “Oh my god, is that real” when they ran towards the tiger cage.

On the body-camera video, the man’s is seen lying on the ground screaming in pain with part of his arm through one of the squares of the fence. His arm is covered in blood.

Officers tried to distract Eko, but the man kept shouting to “shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it. I’m gonna die.” A policeman asked for a tranquillizer gun which wasn’t available. He then decided to shoot the animal and aimed his weapon at the tiger’s head.

When the officer fired, Eko let go of the man’s hand and made a groaning noise. Zoo veterinarians later determined that the single shot killed the tiger.

In the responses to the footage shared by Collier County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook, people understand why the officer decided to shoot, but some question if he could have shot another part of the tiger that wouldn’t have killed him.

“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.

There’s little sympathy for the 26-year-old man who was not supposed to be in the area or stick his hand through the fence. “Eko lost his life because of one person’s ignorance,” Shaun Sliverwood said in a Facebook comment.

“I really feel bad about the tiger, a person makes the mistake, and the tiger gives his life, people are so stupid…I blame the person, he should be charged with something,” Roberta Bristow-Suddarth said.

“Honestly, in the moment the officer was not wrong in his decision, but that being said charges do have to be brought up on the one-armed man. No excuse for him to be in that position in the first place. His arrogance and self entitlement placed him in danger. The tiger had no fault,” Jose Taylormade Gomez responded on Facebook.

The sheriff’s office said that an investigation will determine whether criminal charges will be filed against the man. Naples Zoo was closed on Thursday to allow officials to complete their investigation and allow their staff to process what happened and grief.

Malayan tigers are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. There are only between 80-120 mature individuals left in the world. The tigers are native to Malaysia and face threats such as habitat loss, poaching for their bones and skin and tiger-human conflict.

Eko had been at Naples Zoo since December 2019 after being moved from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. He was born on November 12, 2013 at Little Rock Zoo.

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