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NAPLES, Fla. – An 8-year-old male Malayan tiger who was fatally shot at a southwest Florida zoo on Wednesday night was part of a breeding program since only 200 remain in the wild.

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Courtney Jolly, the director of marketing and public relations at Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, told reporters on Thursday that zoo officials supported the decision of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to shoot Eko, an 8-year-old male. Jolly also said the zoo would open an investigation into the incident.

The zoo was closed Thursday but Jolly said it was scheduled to reopen Friday.

“We need to give (staff members) space and time (to process this),” Jolly told reporters. “We have never had an incident like this at the zoo.”

Jolly added that the zoo has an emergency response team that is trained to shoot an animal if necessary, but that crew only operates during normal zoo hours.

Eko was in his enclosure at Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens when a cleaning service worker, later identified as River Rosenquist, 26, of Naples, entered an unauthorized area near the tiger and climbed over a 4.5-foot enclosure, the Naples Daily News reported. The incident occurred at about 6:26 p.m. EST, two hours after the zoo closed.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Rosenquist bypassed a barrier that requires special authorization to get into the enclosure.

The sheriff’s office said that Rosenquist was either petting or feeding the tiger when Eko grabbed his arm and pulled him into the enclosure.

>> Cleaning service worker attacked by tiger at Florida zoo; animal fatally shot

When deputies responded and were unable to get the tiger to release his grip on Rosenquist’s arm, one deputy fired a weapon at the big cat, killing him, the sheriff’s office said.

Rosenquist was listed in fair condition at an area hospital, WINK-TV reported.

The man’s boss at HMI Commercial Cleaning declined to comment, according to the television station.

Madeleine Doran of Fort Myers, a longtime animal rights activist, criticized the deputy’s actions.

“Through no fault of his own, this innocent, beautiful, critically endangered tiger suffered and died because of human selfishness,” Doran told the Daily News. “Animals are held captive and humans continue to exploit them for entertainment and greed. It is so unjust.”

Eko was part of a trio of Malayan tigers, along with Liem and Olan, who were born on Nov. 12, 2013, at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, according to the Woodland Park Zoo website. They were the first litter of cubs born to parents Suhana and Liku, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

All three tigers were transferred to Woodland Park Zoo, located in Seattle, in March 2015, the newspaper reported.

Eko was moved to the Naples zoo in early 2020, according to the News-Press.

In 2015, Malayan tigers were listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Malayan tigers are one of six subspecies of tigers and are only found in peninsular Malaysia, according to the News-Press.

The tigers are efficient predators, adept swimmers and can run at speeds of up to 40 mph.

The sheriff’s office released audio and video of the incident, which contains graphic footage.

“Our deputy did everything he could do in that situation and he ultimately made the only possible decision he could in order to save this man’s life,” Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said during a news conference. “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility. We value our community partnership with the Naples Zoo and their focus on conservation and education.”