FWC: No violations by Wooten’s during tiger bite, worker smelled of alcohol

Reporter: Michael Hudak Writer: Melissa Montoya
Published: Updated:

A Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Rides employee who was bitten by a tiger last month was apparently drunk when the incident happened, according to a report by FWC.

Ignacio Meabe Martinez, 48, had been working at the Ochopee roadside attraction for a few weeks before he was bitten by one of the tigers during feeding time on March 22, according to an investigative report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Martinez told investigators with the FWC that he had wanted to pet the tiger.

An 18-year-old Siberian tiger named Daisy, weighing about 350 pounds, and an approximately 15-year-old male Bengal tiger named Duruba, weighing about 700 pounds are kept at the facility.

The tiger’s caretaker had finished feeding the two tigers when Martinez entered the tiger’s enclosure buffer zone.

The tiger’s caretaker told Martinez, a mechanic at the facility, he was not authorized to be in the enclosure, but Martinez told him “they are both employees there and they both have the same right to be there.”

Martinez then reached his hand in the animals’ enclosure, picked up a piece of chicken and offered it to Daisy who took it from his hand before dropping it and biting the man’s two fingers.

Daisy pulled Martinez’s arm into the enclosure before swiping at this arm with her claws. The witness said Martinez reached into the enclosure with his right arm to try to free himself but Duruba bit down on it instead, according to the report.

Martinez had no recollection of being bit by the second tiger.

The caretaker sprayed water at the tigers and Duruba released his grip on Martinez but Daisy held on. The caretaker then grabbed Martinez by the torso and pulled until Daisy let go, the report shows.

FWC investigators found no violations by Wooten’s placing the blame on Martinez who “voluntarily breached the structural safety barrier and restricted buffer zone area surrounding the tiger’s enclosure, inserted his hands and arms into the tiger’s enclosure after being instructed not to do so, leading to the incident.”

At the hospital, a social worker told FWC investigators that Martinez was drunk when arrived at the hospital. Martine’z wife also said she was told Martinez “had the smell of alcohol on his breath.”

It’s unclear if his blood alcohol content was tested, but it was not listed in the report.

Michelle is afraid of the alligators when she visits Wooten’s but not the tigers.

“Because there’s a cage. I mean, like, I’m far enough away from them,” she said.

But there’s no cage, fence or barrier high enough to stop people from doing dumb things.

That’s how people described Martinez’s actions when he was bit by the tigers.

“Stupidity. That’s it. Why are you sticking your hand where it doesn’t belong,” said Russ Francis, visiting from Oregon.

Michelle said it’s offensive and unfortunate that Martinez was drinking.

“Those are wild animals and he wasn’t giving (them) the respect they needed,” Michelle said.

This is the second tiger attack in Collier County in a year. In December, a custodian at the Naples Zoo was but by Eko, an 8-year-old Malayan tiger. Eko was killed by a deputy who was forced to shoot the animal to save the custodian’s life.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.