Cleaning worker at Naples Zoo called 911 to report he was ‘being attacked by tiger’

‘Justice for Eko’ online petition gaining traction to have man face criminal charges

The cleaning worker who investigators say breached a barrier to enter an enclosure where a rare tiger was housed called 911 himself to report the attack.

NAPLES, Fla. – The 26-year-old man whose arm was bitten by a a Malayan tiger at the Naples Zoo called 911 himself to report the attack, new audio released by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office reveals.

“I’m being attacked by a tiger. Please. Please,” the man can be heard telling the dispatch operator. Deputies raced to the Zoo where they discovered the horrifying scene of River Rosenquist of Naples pressed up against the fence while the rare, eight-year-old Malayan tiger named Eko kept a tight grip on the man’s arm in his mouth.

(Warning: The video below contains graphic content.)

An online petition is calling for criminal charges to be filed against Rosenquist and the cleaning company, HMI Commercial Cleaning of Naples, that employed him.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said Rosenquist had entered an animal enclosures area and put his arm through a fence.

A deputy on bodycam video can be heard saying, “Oh, my God. Is that real?” as Rosenquist screams for help.

President and CEO of Naples Zoo, Jack Mulvena, standing in front of a poster that featured a photo of the tiger at a press conference Friday, said the zoo hasn’t yet considered pressing charges against Rosenquist. “We understand that the State is pursuing the possibility of pressing charges. Honestly, our focus right now is on our staff.”

HMI Commercial Cleaning was reportedly responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosures. It is believed that the employee traversed an initial fence barrier before sticking his arm through the fencing of the tiger enclosure. The cleaning service has been temporarily suspended from working at the zoo.

Mulvena said that the cleaning service had been working with the zoo “for quite some time” and that third-party vendors are given very specific instructions.

“In this instance, unfortunately, River made the decision to breach a visitor barrier and get close to the exhibit itself. We don’t know what happened and why he did that. We suspect it was to pet or to feed, but we don’t know that for certain. Only River knows that,” Mulvena said.

A CCSO deputy initially tried to get the tiger to release the man’s arm before deciding to shoot.

The worker did not have permission to get close to the animal enclosures, according to Rambosk. Rambosk said that Rosenquist was in an unauthorized area of the zoo at the tiger enclosure after the facility closed Wednesday and that the man had already breached an initial barrier.

Ron Magill, communications director and Zoo Miami’s goodwill ambassador, said that the male tiger was defending his territory. “This was a tiger defense . . . not a tiger attack,” he said. But Magill agreed with the deputy’s decision to shoot the animal. “That deputy did the absolute right thing at the right time. There is no single animal life more important than a human,” Magill said.

The injured man is reportedly in fair condition in a Fort Myers hospital.

A petition on Change.org “Justice for Eko” is seeking signatures to “support and demand” Rosenquist be held accountable.

“Eko’s death is 100% the result of this man’s actions. He worked for a 3rd party cleaning company and was not authorized to be in that area. Charges of criminal nature MUST be filed, and while the man has suffered medical consequences he must be held accountable for the loss,” the petition’s author, Melissa Ault, writes.


About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com. She has a bachelor's degree from Emerson College, Boston, and a master's degree from SUNY-Empire State.