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Deputy forced to fatally shoot endangered tiger after trespassing janitor stuck hand in cage

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Michelle Marchante

Miami Herald

An 8-year-old Malayan tiger named “Eko” was shot dead by a deputy after he attacked a cleaning worker who stuck his arm in the enclosure at a Florida zoo, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

The tragedy unfolded at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens on Wednesday night, when the zoo had already closed for the day. The zoo announced it would remain closed Thursday for the investigation and to let its staff “begin the painful healing process.”

Bodycam footage released by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday shows arriving deputies finding a man on the floor next to Eko’s cage, screaming in agony, his arm in Eko’s jaw.

The man was a worker for a cleaning company that the zoo employs, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Based on the preliminary investigation, it appears the worker, who is in his 20s, jumped over a fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing of Eko’s enclosure, either to pet or feed him, according to the sheriff’s office.

The worker wasn’t suppose to be there. The cleaning company’s staff is hired to clean the restrooms and gift shops, not the animal enclosures, the sheriff’s office said. At some point, the tiger mauled his arm.

A Collier deputy kicked the enclosure’s fence, trying to get the tiger to release the worker’s arm. The deputy shot the tiger, the sheriff office said.

Eko released the man’s arm and went to the back of the enclosure. The tiger died from his injuries. The worker was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

“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 in a statement posted on Facebook. “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 says it has made a grief counselor available for workers and plans to reopen at 9 a.m. Friday.

“We thank our community for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us,” the zoo wrote in an online post.

Eko arrived at the zoo from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and was an ambassador for his critically endangered species, according to an online video the zoo posted about him last year. On Tuesday, the zoo had featured him on their social media pages for Happy Tongue Out Tuesday.

This article will be updated.

©2021 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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