A tiger at the Naples Zoo in Florida was killed after it attacked a worker who reached into its cage on Wednesday evening.
According to officials, the eight-year-old Malayan tiger named Eko was shot to death after it grabbed the arm of a cleaning service worker and tried to drag him into his enclosure. Eko joined the Naples Zoo in 2020 after previously being cared for at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
According to a statement on the zoo’s website: “Eko is a great ambassador for his species. When guests see him, we hope they fall in love and want to learn how they can do their part to save his cousins in the wild.”
Malayan tigers are critically endangered, with only about 200 left in the wild.
Janitor Was Either Petting Or Attempting To Feed Tiger Prior To Attack
The janitor was reported to be in his twenties. According to CBS Florida affiliate WINK-TV, the man was airlifted to the hospital and was reported to be in serious condition as of Thursday morning.
Officials for the Naples Zoo said that the cleaning service worker did not work for the zoo and was sent from a third-party cleaning service that has yet to be disclosed.
Officials stated that the janitor “entered an unauthorized area near a tiger that was inside its enclosure. The cleaning company is responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosures.”
Officials added that the man was either petting the tiger or attempting to feed it. The zoo officials clearly stated that “both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities.”
Initial reports had stated that the cleaning service worker “traversed an initial fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing” of the enclosure.
The local police department was called just before 6:30 PM. Reports state that one of the officers “kicked the enclosure and tried to get the tiger to release the man’s arm from its mouth but the deputy was forced to shoot the animal.”
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is closed today, Thursday, December 30, as officials continue their investigation. However, they do plan to re-open on Friday, December 31, for visitors who are looking to spend their New Year’s Eve with a family trip to the zoo.
Naples Zoo Closes To Allow Staff To ‘Begin The Painful Healing Process’
Naples Zoo officials released a statement on their website announcing the closure.
“Naples Zoo will be closed today, December 30th,” the statement began. “The decision to close today was made to allow officials to complete their investigation late into the evening.”
“This decision was also made to allow the Zoo to begin its own internal investigation and to allow our staff to process what has occurred and to begin the painful healing process,” they continued.
“A grief counselor will be available for staff beginning today,” they added. “We will reopen at 9 a.m. tomorrow and we thank our community for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us.”
Many took to social media to express condolences for the passing of Eko, who was beloved by adults and children alike.