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Police shoot and kill critically endangered tiger to free Florida man who stuck his arm in cage

Roberta Basile/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida police say they were forced to shoot and kill a critically endangered tiger at the Naples Zoo after it bit and seriously injured a man who had entered a restricted area and reached into the animal's enclosure.

According to the Collier County Sheriff's Office, the injured man was a member of a third-party cleaning service contracted by the zoo. After the zoo had closed for the day on Wednesday, he entered an unauthorized area near a tiger that was inside its enclosure, police said.

Investigators say the man was either petting or feeding the animal, "both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities," when he was attacked.

"Initial reports indicate that the tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it into the enclosure after the the man traversed an initial fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing of the tiger enclosure," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post.

Police were called to the zoo at 6:26 p.m. The first deputy to arrive on the scene kicked the tiger enclosure in an unsuccessful attempt to get the animal to release the man's arm from its mouth. When that didn't work, the deputy was "forced to shoot" the tiger, police said.

The zoo later confirmed that the 8-year-old tiger, named Eko, was killed.

The man, who is in his 20s, was seriously injured and was taken to a local hospital by Collier County emergency medical services, the sheriff's office said. Police added that the cleaning company the man worked for was responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not animal enclosures, and that he should not have been anywhere near an animal enclosure.

Eko the Malayan tiger was acquired by the zoo in 2019 and relocated from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 2020, according to a press release from Naples Zoo.

Malayan tigers are a critically endangered species, with fewer than 200 mature animals living in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are native to Malaysia and endangered because of habitat loss, poaching, depletion of their prey, and conflict with human beings, the zoo said.

News of the tiger's death sparked anger on social media.

"So the man enters a restricted area, sticks his hand in to feed the tiger. And they kill this endangered animal??" Peter Daou, a Democratic political strategist, wrote on Twitter.

"Why was the tiger shot?!!!!" Norberto Barba, a producer and director for "Law and Order: SVU," demanded.

"If we're going to keep animals in zoos, the animals' lives should be prioritized over people who do stupid s**t like stick their arm into a tiger enclosure," Ari Cohn, the Free Speech Counsel for TechFreedom, said.

"Should have just done a battlefield amputation to free the guy. Lesson learned," he said.

"Critically endangered Malayan tiger shot after being provoked by certifiably moronic dumb-ass," another user commented.

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