Trust & Verify: Petition for charges in tiger Eko’s death won’t work

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Eko, the Malayan tiger. Credit: Naples Zoo.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for criminal charges against the man who stuck his arm in a tiger enclosure at the Naples Zoo.

The Malayan tiger, Eko, was killed by a Collier County deputy in order to save 26-year-old River Rosenquist, who had his arm nearly amputated in the attack.

Most people can agree sticking your arm in a tiger’s cage may not be the smartest move.

In fact, the words dangerous, reckless and even dumb come to mind.

But as former prosecutor Lee Hollander said, ill-advised does not equal illegal.

“On this petition, they were saying negligence, trespassing, any of those? He can’t be charged with any of that? Well, the trespassing, he was on the grounds with permission from the zoo as part of a cleaning crew so it wasn’t a trespass,” Hollander said.

Rosenquist worked for a third-party cleaning company after hours at the zoo and smelled of alcohol when he reached the hospital, according to an incident report.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife investigator said the photos showing the posted signs near the enclosure, the size of the hole Rosenquist stuck his arm through to reach the tiger and his bicycle nearby with an open pop tart wrapper.

Zoo officials said, “Rosenquist was outside the scope of his duties and that he was not authorized to breach the posted structural safety barrier.”

Still, Hollander said Rosenquist broke no laws.

“You can’t legislate stupidity and they don’t have a law that says you can’t stick your arm in a lion’s cage,” Hollander said.

There are less than 200 Malayan tigers left in the wild.

Hollander said the zoo could have a civil case for damages against Rosenquist and perhaps his employer.

But as far as a criminal case, the court of public opinion isn’t enough to get a conviction.

“If the law doesn’t specifically outlaw it, you can’t use it. And you can’t shoehorn this particular situation into existing laws,” Hollander said.

While it won’t help in Eko’s case, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk is advocating for a change in the law to hold those who endanger animals with reckless acts to be held accountable.

State Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, said he plans to meet with Rambosk and the zoo to talk about the issue.

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