Rare Zoo Tiger Shot Dead to Thwart Attack on Man Who Was Petting or Feeding It, Police Say

A Florida sheriff's deputy was forced to shoot and kill a zoo tiger on Wednesday after the animal grabbed a man who was reportedly attempting to pet or feed the rare feline, police said.

The incident occurred in the evening at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, located in the town of the same name. Collier County Sheriff's deputies were called to the park around 6:30 p.m. after reports of a man being attacked by a tiger, according to a Facebook post by the Sheriff's Department.

Police said deputies arrived on the scene to find that the man, a member of a third-party cleaning crew that worked after-hours, had stuck his hand into the enclosure of an 8-year-old Malayan tiger named Eko, upon which the big cat had pulled his arm into the habitat. The man had reached the outside of the enclosure after climbing an initial barrier, police said.

The cleaning man, reportedly in his 20s, was attempting to either pet or feed the tiger, according to sheriff's deputies. Neither of these activities are allowed under the zoo's rules and were described by authorities as "unauthorized and dangerous."

Malayan Tiger
Eko, a Malayan tiger at the Naples Zoo in Florida, was shot dead by a sheriff's deputy after a cleaning man who was attempting to either feed or pet the endangered tiger was grabbed by the arm, police said. This is a stock photo of a Malayan tiger and does not depict the tiger that died. iStock/Getty

The cleaning company that the man worked for was only responsible for cleaning the zoo's bathroom facilities and gift shop, and its crew members were not authorized to enter any animal enclosures.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts to free the cleaning man from the tiger's grasp, a sheriff's deputy was forced to shoot the tiger to get him to retreat. It is unclear how many rounds the deputy fired.

Upon being pulled away from the tiger, the man was medevaced to a nearby hospital with reportedly serious injuries. A spokesperson for Lee Health Systems stated, "I can only confirm that we are treating someone who was attacked by a tiger."

The tiger, meanwhile, reportedly fled to the back of his enclosure after being shot. Law enforcement officials flew a drone in to observe the feline, but found that he would not respond.

Sheriff's deputies only stated that a veterinarian had sedated the tiger and would approach him for an examination when it was deemed safe.

However, zoo officials confirmed late Wednesday evening that Eko had died from the gunshot wound.

The Sheriff's Department added that the public was never in danger, and the Naples Daily News reported that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers had also responded to the incident.

The big cat involved, Eko, the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens' only tiger, and was reportedly sent to Florida from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 2019, according to zoo officials.

Eko was also a member of a subspecies, the Malayan tiger, that is rapidly disappearing and critically endangered.

The Woodland Park Zoo stated that "fewer than 300 Malayan tigers remain in the wild," primarily due to "poaching for their skins and body parts for traditional medicine, habitat loss, agricultural, logging and other human developments, and retaliatory killing by farmers for attacks on livestock."

As their name suggests, wild Malayan tigers only live on the southern tip of Thailand in the Malay Peninsula.

Newsweek has reached out to the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens for comment.