A deputy sheriff has shot a Malayan tiger dead at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens for attacking a cleaner. The 8-year-old critically endangered tiger bit the hand of the cleaner and wouldn’t let go until it was shot. Officials said the cleaner, 26-year-old River Rosenquist, breached a barrier and entered an unauthorized area to either pet or feed the tiger before the attack.
Rosenquist works for a third-party cleaning company hired by the zoo to clean the restrooms and gift shop, but not the enclosures in which wild animals are kept. Authorities said it is illegal for him to have gone into the animal enclosures or even feed or pet them in any way. The cleaner was airlifted to the Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers where he is in stable condition.
“Preliminary information,” said the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, showed that Rosenquist “was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities.”
The Malayan tiger, named Eko, was acquired by Naples Zoo in December 2019 from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The Red List of Threatened Species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies Malayan tigers as critically endangered, with less than 200 remaining in the wild. The World Wildlife Fund said the animal’s decline is due to habitat loss and agricultural development.
According to camera footage released by the sheriff’s office, Rosenquist’s hand is seen in the tiger’s mouth and he is screaming in pain for help. A deputy approached and could be heard asking for a tranquilizer gun; when he was told that one was not available, he went ahead to fire a shot at the tiger. Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said the deputy did the only thing he could do in the circumstance.
“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,” Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said in a statement. “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility.”
The sheriff said his office is investigating the matter to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Rosenquist.