(FLORIDA) — An official at the Naples Zoo, where a tiger attacked a man who allegedly stuck his hand in the cage, said on Friday that it supports that deputy’s decision to shoot the animal.
The man had called 911 after the tiger attacked him at the Florida zoo. Initial reports suggest that the tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it into the enclosure after the man jumped over the initial fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing, authorities said on Thursday.
The tiger, named Eko, died after being shot in the neck by a responding deputy. Eko was a Malayan tiger, a species that is critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss, according to the Naples Zoo.
President and CEO of Naples Zoo, Jack Mulvena, said the zoo hasn’t considered pressing charges against the man, identified as a 26-year-old River Rosenquist.
“It was a bad mistake, a bad decision, but we only wish him well in the recovery,” he said during a press conference Friday.
Mulvena said he spoke with the zoo’s weapon’s team and they said if they were in the officer’s position, under the same circumstances, they would have made the same decision.
“The deputy faced a very difficult decision and we support that decision,” Mulvena said.
Rosenquist, who worked for a third-party cleaning company, had entered an unauthorized area of the Florida zoo. Authorities said on Thursday that he could face criminal charges.
Mulvena said that third parties hired to work for the zoo, including HMI Commercial Cleaners, where Rosenquist worked, were aware they should not be in certain areas.
“Their responsibilities were very specific; cleaning of our new hospital and commissary, our gift shop, admissions and our two public bathrooms,” Mulvena said.
The zoo’s security team never saw Rosenquist or any cleaning crew members depart from what they were supposed to be doing, Mulvena said Friday.
“In this instance, unfortunately, River made the decision to breach a visitor barrier and get close to the exhibit itself. We don’t know what happened and why he did that. We suspect it was to pet or to feed, but we don’t know that for certain. Only River knows that,” Mulvena said.
The zoo is in the process of conducting an internal investigation and review of all its policies and protocols, he said.
“[We] don’t believe our policies and protocols were in any way responsible for this,” Mulvena said.
The zoo will also consider whether it should install security cameras.
“I think the lesson learned here is you can’t 100% prevent people from making really, really horrible decisions,” Mulvena said.
The zoo established the Eko Tiger Conservation Fund in memory of the tiger. All the proceeds from the fund will be going to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which Mulvena said has been doing some of the best work in the world on Malayan tiger conservation.
“We want his memory to live on and we want it to live on in terms of saving Malayan tigers in the wild,” Mulvena said.
Eko’s body is currently in the zoo’s hospital and a necropsy is scheduled for Monday.
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