The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens announced in a press conference today that they have not considered whether they will press charges against a man who entered an unauthorized area of the zoo and was mauled by a tiger that was subsequently shot to death.
River Rosenquist, 26, works for HMI Commercial Cleaning, a company that was contracted by the zoo to clean bathrooms, a gift shop, and commissary areas. Rosenquist entered an unauthorized area of the zoo in front of a Malayan tiger enclosure after hours on December 29, 2021. It is suspected that Rosenquist reached through the fence to pet or feed the tiger, named Eko, when Eko grabbed onto his arm and wouldn’t let go.
Rosenquist was able to call 911 during the attack. The Collier County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) responded to the call and found Rosenquist screaming outside Eko’s enclosure while the tiger continued mauling the man’s arm. An officer shot and killed Eko. Rosenquist was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.
Naples Zoo President and CEO Jack Mulvena said the decision to shoot the tiger was the right call.
"Their deputy tried to distract the tiger first, as you saw from the footage, and faced a very difficult decision -- and we support that decision," he said. “Our team said that … given the same circumstances, they would have done the same thing.”
Mulvena said the zoo employs one 24-hour security guard to patrol the 43-acre zoo property but the security guard is only on site for monitoring. He said the zoo also employs a trained tranquilizer gun team and a weapons team. However, the trained staff is only on site while the zoo is open and the incident occurred after hours.
The Naples Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Mulvena said the AZA does not require accredited facilities to utilize surveillance cameras. He said the Naples Zoo does not have security cameras and he said that the majority of zoos do not have a security camera system.
Mulvena said Naples Zoo does not take responsibility for the incident.
“We’ve reviewed it and don't believe our policies and protocols were responsible in any way for this,” he said.
Mulvena said the zoo has suspended the use of HMI Commercial Cleaning. CCSO said they are still investigating to determine if criminal charges will be filed against Rosenquist for the incident.
Malayan tigers are critically endangered with less than 200 left in the wild. Naples Zoo said they are setting up the Eko Tiger Conservation Fund to support Malayan tigers in their natural habitat.
“The lesson learned is that you can’t 100% prevent people from making really really horrible decisions,” Mulvena said.
The Naples Zoo confirmed that an autopsy will be performed on Eko. Once the autopsy is completed, Eko’s body will be incinerated.