NEWS AND COMMENT-NAPLES ZOO, FLORIDA USA: A rare Malayan tiger whose name was Eko, was shot dead by a police deputy because he had grabbed the arm of a cleaner which had been stuffed into his enclosure to pet or feed the tiger. The cleaner was an employee of a third-party contracting company. They were authorised to clean the restrooms and the gift shop at the zoo. That was the extent of their authorisation.
‘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 police.
The employee of that company was therefore in an unauthorised area carrying out a reckless act. The tiger would not release the man’s arm. The police were called. A police deputy tried to distract Eko to release the man’s arm by shaking the fencing. It didn’t work. He then shot the tiger. The tiger retreated into a hiding place. A drone was sent up into the enclosure to check Eko’s condition.
Thereafter a veterinarian went in to treat the bullet wound. Eko died while undergoing treatment.
The man is in his 20s and was seriously harmed. He was flown to a local hospital by helicopter. He may face prosecution. I have learned that he is 26-year-old River Rosenquist. He called 911 when the tiger got hold of his hand in its jaws. He said: ‘I’m going to die!”
There are around 200 Malayan tigers in the wild. They are critically endangered because of a loss of habitat and because of hunters.
The story is one of human folly on three fronts. Firstly, the cleaner was doing something incredibly reckless and in breach of contract. Secondly, we have to ask whether the police officer really had to shoot the Eko dead. Was there not a better way to proceed? Could he or she had been better prepared with a tranquilizing dart? Why wasn’t a skilled person sent out to tranquilize the tiger? And lastly, in the wild, this precious creature is critically endangered as stated. The reasons? Human activity and human population growth. The usual problems.
The police officer was asked by a zookeeper if he had a tranquillizer. There was no response and Eko was shot soon afterwards.
The tiger was acting instinctively, obviously, so no blame can be placed on that animal’s shoulders. This story is about human behaviour and at the end of the day a catastrophic failure in conservation of the critically endangered tiger, and I’m referring to all subspecies of tiger.
The video below comes from a police officer’s bodycam.
Note: This is a video from another website which is embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.
The Malayan tiger
This tiger is described as the “Indochinese subspecies of the tiger” with a distribution in Myanmar, Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and neighbouring China. It was thought that as at 2002 the population was between 1100 and 1800 as a rough estimate (now much lower than that figure-see below).
At one time, tigers were abundant in peninsular Malaysia. In the 1950s Colonel A. Locke estimated that there were 3000 tigers in Malaysia. Unfortunately, at that time the status of the tiger in Asia including Malaysia was equal to that of a rat or a squirrel. They were killed on sight according to my reference book Wildcats of the World.
Accordingly, the numbers declined rapidly and estimates in the 1970s varied from 300 to 600. Recent estimates (as at 2002) conclude that the number of tigers in peninsular Malaysia to be around 500. At that time there had been a modest increase due to conservation efforts and legislation implemented since 1972. The tiger was given total protection in 1976 in Malaysia.
In 1987 there was about 6.5 million ha of forest cover in peninsular Malaysia. Much of this forestation would remain like that because it is unsuitable for agriculture. In 2002 tigers were confined to relatively small and widely separated national parks reserves and sanctuaries in Malaysia.
Some authors have granted this tiger subspecies with its own scientific name: Panthera tigris malayensis. However, this is not widely accepted although it is regarded as a distinct subspecies. That’s why it is referred to as the “Malayan tiger”.
There is no difference in terms of appearance or behaviour of the Malayan tiger to other Indochinese tigers. The Wikipedia authors tell me that the estimated number of Malayan tigers currently is between 250-340 individuals. Because of this very small number which is entering a phase where the population becomes unviable, the classification in terms of survivability as designated by the IUCN Red List is “Critically Endangered”. This is one step from extinction in the wild.
In addition to habitat loss and hunting (of the past), poaching and depletion of prey has caused a decrease in the tiger population in the Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve by about 60% over a period of 7–8 years, from approximately 60 to 23.