Investigators believe that the man was either petting or feeding the four-year-old Malayan tiger, named Eko, when it bit onto his arm. Photo courtesy Naples Zoo
Dec. 30 (UPI) -- A sheriff's deputy was forced to shoot a Malayan tiger at a zoo in southwest Florida late Wednesday after it grabbed ahold of a man's arm and wouldn't let go.
Authorities said the man was working at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens for a cleaning service when he put his arm through a fence in the tiger's enclosure after the zoo had closed for the day.
Officials believe he either was petting or feeding the 4-year-old male tiger, named Eko, when it bit onto his arm.
The first deputy to arrive at the scene tried to get the animal to let go of the man's arm. When it didn't, he shot Eko, who ultimately died of the gunshot wound, authorities said.
The man, who is in his 20s, was hospitalized for severe bite injuries to his arm.
The zoo closed to the public Thursday so that authorities could finish their investigation.
"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," the zoo said in a statement on its website.
"A grief counselor will be available for staff beginning today. We will reopen at 9 a.m. [EST Friday], and we thank our community for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us."
Eko was the only tiger at Naples Zoo -- a nationally accredited institution that has other animals like lions, giraffes, monkeys, pythons and bears. Malayan tigers are an endangered species, and fewer than 200 remain in the wild.
Eko came from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in early 2020. Naples is on the Gulf Coast of Florida, about 100 miles west of Miami.
The day before the attack, the zoo had posted a photo of Eko on its Facebook page. The photo showed the tiger licking his lips and carried a caption that read, "Happy #TongueOutTuesday from Malayan tiger Eko!"