A critically endangered Malaysian tiger living at the Naples Zoo in Florida died this week after being shot by a deputy trying to save a 26-year-old maintenance worker from being mauled to death.
The worker, who was reportedly part of a third-party cleaning crew responsible for cleaning the zoo’s restrooms and gift shop, slipped into an unauthorised section of the tiger’s enclosure after the zoo had closed to the public on Wednesday according to Naples Daily News. The worker was reportedly feeding and petting the eight-year-old tiger named Eko.
At some point after that things took a horrible turn. Eko grabbed hold of the worker’s arm and began violently ripping it apart. Eko can be seen here in this tweet posted by the zoo just one day prior to the incident.
— Naples Zoo (@NaplesZoo) December 28, 2021
Body camera footage released by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office shows deputies rushing to the scene and running toward the man screaming out for help. By the time the deputy made it to the scene, the man appeared to have lost much of his arm, with the lion’s jaw locked around what was left. The deputies first tried kicking the fence to scare Eko off but he wouldn’t budge. Eventually, the bodycam footage shows the deputy drawing his sidearm, reaching around the fence, and firing one bullet into the tiger’s side. In a flash, the tiger retreated into the darkness.
Meanwhile, emergency responders rushed to treat the worker, who was eventually flown via a medical helicopter to a hospital, ABC News notes. Authorities flew a camera-equipped drone into Eko’s enclosure to determine his whereabouts and condition but he was unresponsive. A zoo veterinarian sedated the tiger only to find out he had died from the gunshot wound.
“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 a statement. “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility.”
According to the zoo’s website, Eko was recently acquired from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Globally, the World Wildlife Fund estimates there are less than 200 Malaysian tigers left living in the world. The zoo’s site described Eko as “a great ambassador for his species.”
The Collier County Sheriff says an investigation is currently underway to determine whether or not criminal charges will be filed against the worker.