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Punta Gorda sanctuary discusses safety after tiger bite incidents

Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary did not experience the incidents but explains why experience equals safety around wild animals
Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary Tiger
Posted at 4:22 PM, Mar 24, 2022

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — It’s not something you hear about every day, but even still, Collier County has had two instances of someone being bitten by a tiger in just three months.

The first incident happened in late Dec. 2021, when a tiger bit a cleaning crew member at the Naples Zoo. The most recent bite occurred Tuesday when a tiger bit an employee at Wooten's Airboats in Ochopee.

On Thursday, Fox 4's Colton Chavez took a tour of the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary in Punta Gorda to get a better perspective of how something like this can happen.

News of Ignacio Martinez being bit at Wooten's Airboats quickly made its way to the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary (OWS).

OWS Director, Lauri Caron says sometimes the playful nature of big cats can fool people into thinking they are safe to interact with.

“People get the false reality and confidence of thinking that because they were raised by humans and you have this fence up, that's how they are acting towards you while you are on this side of the fence, but it's going to be totally different when you go into their territory,” said Caron.

Caron, who has been director of OWS for over 30 years said crossing that boundary into a tiger’s territory is what Ignacio Martinez did when the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said Martinez tried to pet a tiger while a fellow Wooten's employee was feeding the wild animal.

An activity Caron said can put an animal on edge.

“Any gesture with your hand, whether you have something in it or not they think there is food in there and that's the first thing they are going for, your hands your fingers your arms,” said Caron.

A danger that Caron said is why a lot of work goes into training someone to be licensed to care for big cats, something Wooten's said Martinez was not qualified to do.

“Typically, a 1,000 hours and a year with one type of species," is what Caron told me is a rule enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Despite FWC leaders telling me there are no criminal penalties for someone breaching an animals barrier.

A situation that has happened twice in Collier County within the past three months.

Caron told me that the person who decides to break the rules is the one who should be punished.

She says there are over 100 animals here and it's the individual person's responsibility to act accordingly when working in these types of places.