CCSO releases graphic bodycam video of Naples Zoo tiger attack of man who entered unauthorized area

Published: December 30, 2021 11:43 AM EST
Updated: December 31, 2021 9:25 AM EST

A tiger at the Naples Zoo bit a man on Wednesday night. A Collier County Sheriff’s deputy who responded to the zoo shot and killed that tiger.

The Naples Zoo says a man in his 20’s who was working for a third-party cleaning service was bit by the tiger. That man was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office identified the man as River Rosenquist, 26, of Naples. Lee Health says he is now in ‘fair condition.’

On Thursday, WINK News was able to learn a little more about Rosenquist. Neighbors say he was a troubled kid. They also say he was living in a house his father owned and it has been under construction since Hurricane Irma.

Naples Zoo officials say the cleaning company the man was working for is responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosures.

His boss at HMI Commercial Cleaning declined to comment for WINK News.

The zoo says the man was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWC, the man bypassed a barrier that requires special authorization to get into the enclosure. They say they believe the tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it into the primary enclosure.

When Collier County Sheriff’s deputies responded, they initially kicked at the fencing to try and get the tiger to release the man but were forced to shoot the animal when it didn’t let go.

WARNING: The following video released by Collier County Sheriff’s Office contains graphic images of a man being attacked by a tiger and the tiger subsequently being shot, along with strong language. The video will be disturbing to some viewers. Click HERE to watch.

The video shows a deputy driving quickly to get to the zoo. When he arrived, he demanded an employee take him to the tiger.

As the deputy approached the enclosure, you can hear screams for help from Rosenquist. You can also hear Rosenquist’s screams in the recently-released 911 call. “I’m being attacked by a tiger please please please.” “Please please help me.”

In the bodycam video, you can see his arm jammed through a fence, gripped tight by the teeth of a Malayan tiger.

As the deputy shakes the tiger’s cage, a zoo employee screams out the tiger’s name.

The deputy asks for a tranquilizer, but there isn’t one available, and seconds later, he shots the tiger, releasing the man’s arm from its mouth.

Ems immediately pulls Rosenquist up from the ground. As they rush to cinch a tourniquet around his mangled arm, the deputy can be heard saying, “I know I had to shoot it. I don’t even know where I hit it. I don’t even know where I hit it. ”

The zoo has a trained shoot team for these crisis situations, but it’s only during open hours. A spokesperson for the zoo said although they miss Eko dearly, they fully support the tough decision that the deputy had to make in a split second.

Courtney Jolly works at the Naples Zoo and says while they are saddened by Eko’s death, they support CCSO. “We fully support CCSO and what they had to do and at the end of the day if someone is in imminent danger they have to take that action,” Jolly said.

The sheriff’s office is still investigating if Rosenquist will face charges.

FWC says its Captive Wildlife section is also investigating and will release a full report when the investigation is complete.

The 8-year-old Malayan tiger, Eko, was one of only 300 in the world.

“It is a really sad day at the zoo,” said Courtney Jolly with the Naples Zoo. “We’ve never had an incident with this specific tiger before we’ve never had anything like this happen at the zoo before we’ve never had anyone breach a barrier fence and put themselves in this situation.”

People visiting the zoo are also upset by the whole situation

Kevin said, “Surprised. Kind of wondering what they were thinking trying to pet the animals but yeah that’s unfortunate.”

Another visitor said, “the man should not have been in that cage. I guess so the animal was just protecting itself, so it’s a wild animal it’s not tamed.”

Someone dropped off orange roses, and another person put a sign saying, “This was not a tiger attack. Standing for Eko.”

Colleen McFadden was visiting from Texas and says it’s sad that this animal died. “It‘s a terrible tragedy that an animal lost its life because a human did something stupid,” McFadden said.

The Naples Zoo has spent the last two decades fundraising for Malayan tiger conservation efforts, and they don’t plan to stop. They will create a fund in Eko’s honor.

“We do a lot of work for tiger conservation, to begin with, its part of our conservation portfolio. But we’ve decided to do a fund in Eko’s honor,” Jolly said.

For now, they have a grief counselor on-site to help the staff members cope with the loss.

“We’re giving our staff some time to process what has happened but also to give them some time to start the grieving and healing process,” said Jolly.

She also said, “we are grieving. It is a sad day for sure.

“I really feel bad for the tiger there’s not very many left in the world,” McFadden said.

The zoo released the following statement on Wednesday:

This evening after the Naples Zoo had closed for the day a member of a third-party cleaning service contracted by the zoo suffered serious injuries when he 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. Preliminary information indicates that the man was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities. Initial reports indicate that the tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it into the enclosure after the man traversed an initial fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing of the tiger enclosure. Deputies were called to the zoo at 6:26 p.m. The first deputy on scene 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 man, who is in his 20s, was seriously injured and was transported to an area hospital by Collier County EMS as a trauma alert.

On Thursday, the zoo released another statement:

Thank you for patience through this difficult situation. Our team has been working very closely with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to ensure information has been shared accurately and as timely as possible.
It is a very sad day at Naples Zoo, we have lost our Malayan tiger, Eko. He was 8 years old and he came to Naples Zoo in December of 2019. He will be deeply missed and we sincerely appreciate the love and support of the community as we navigate this difficult time.
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. A grief counselor will be available for staff beginning today.
We will reopen at 9am 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.

PETA also released a statement saying in part:

This tiger behaved as any big cat would to the sudden and unwanted contact of a human hand, yet it’s animals who are killed when humans get hurt.

The Naples Zoo has created a web page with information about Eko and the attack. You can find it by clicking here.

The zoo says it will reopen on Friday at 9 a.m.