Zoo remains closed day after rare tiger mauled interloper, forcing deputy to shoot it
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is closed today after a man was mauled when he breached the tiger's enclosure and a deputy was forced to kill the big cat, the zoo announced.
"The decision to close today was made to allow officials to continue their investigation late into the morning," a post on the zoo's website alerted readers.
By mid-morning, the zoo was turning away a steady stream of cars of people who had planned to enjoy the zoo. Many were not aware of what had happened, a zoo worker said.
“The kids love it,” said Robert McGruder, of Naples, who was waiting for friends with kids in another car.
Gillian Peterson, a seasonal resident from Boston, had brought her two grown sons and their wives.
“This is so sad,” she said.
“I’m so sorry for the worker, the tiger and the zoo. It’s just an unfortunate incident.”
Tickets purchased online for Thursday will remain good for a year.
The zoo will begin its own investigation into the incident, which killed a critically endangered species, the zoo's only tiger.
According to the Collier County Sheriff, a contract worker in his 20s was either petting or feeding the animal, sticking his hand through fencing and the tiger grabbed his arm and pulled it into the enclosure.
Deputies arrived about 6:30 p.m. and the first deputy kicked the enclosure and tried to get the tiger to release the man’s arm. When the tiger, Eko, wouldn't, the deputy shot him.
Zoo officials said by closing the zoo Thursday, workers would begin "the painful healing process." A grief counselor is available for staff.
Courtney Jolly, director of marketing and public relations for the zoo, said the zoo's board of directors have received word of Eko's death, but she doesn't know when they will meet.
“We are trying to mitigate our way through this,” she said.
Eko, a critically endangered Malayan tiger, came to the zoo about two years ago. There are fewer than 200 in the wild and Eko was part of a program to ensure their future. He was 8 years old.
The man was flown to Lee Memorial in hospital for treatment.
The zoo will reopen at 9 a.m. Friday.
"We thank our community for their understanding and their messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us," the statement said.
Naples Daily News reporter Liz Freeman contributed to this report.