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Tiger mauling incidents lead to proposed rule changes in Florida

An employee pets a tiger at Wooten's Everglades Airboats in this YouTube video screengrab.

Two separate tiger mauling incidents in Florida in less than three months have led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to review rules related to captive wildlife bites.

The most recent incident happened at Wooten’s Everglades Airboats in Ochopee, Florida, March 22. The incident report from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) indicates 48-year-old Ignacio Meabe Martinez, an employee of Wooten’s Everglades Airboats, entered an area he was not authorized to be in and put his hands through the fence to pet a tiger while another employee was feeding the animal. The tiger grabbed Martinez’ arms briefly before releasing them, causing injuries to both of his arms.

“He’s got arm injuries. His left arm is pretty mangled,” a 911 caller said. “I don’t see any vascular bleeding but he’s been mauled pretty good … he’s in danger of losing his arm.”

Body camera footage indicates the tiger bit off the tip of Martinez’ middle finger, which was not located. The tiger "probably ate it," an employee said in the video.

Media reports indicate Martinez was airlifted to Gulf Coast Hospital in Fort Myers. The tiger that bit Martinez was contained and was not harmed.

The incident comes just a few months after 26-year River Rosenquist, a cleaning man, jumped a barrier fence December 29 at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens in Naples, Florida, about 36 miles away from Wooten’s Airboats, and stuck his arm into the enclosure of a critically endangered Malayan tiger named Eko. The tiger latched on to Rosenquist’s arm and would not let go. A CCSO officer shot and killed the tiger. Rosenquist was hospitalized with serious injuries.

CCSO posted on Facebook that they would not pursue charges against Rosenquist for the incident.

“Simply put, there are no laws on the books that apply to this reckless act,” CCSO wrote in their social media post.

The FWC website indicates the Captive Wildlife Office is currently reviewing rules related to reporting requirements for injuries, bites and escapes involving captive wildlife.

The agency is clarifying requirements regarding open top enclosures and barriers to prevent escapes. FWC is also considering adding a prohibition on unauthorized persons breaching safety barriers.

“This rule review is being done in an effort to increase public safety, animal welfare and consistency of our rules,” the agency wrote on their website.

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