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Investigators detail what went wrong after unauthorized employee was bitten by tiger

Collier County Sheriff's Office releases bodycam footage of the incident
WootensAirboatsGate
Posted at 5:16 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 12:01:37-04

OCHOPEE, Fla. — The Collier County Sheriff's Office identified the employee who was bitten by a tiger at Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours as Ignacio Meabe Martinez, 48 from Lehigh Acres.

Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC), the agency leading the investigation, agrees with Wooten's blog post which said Martinez was not authorized to be in the tiger's enclosure.

On Wednesday, customers continued to roll through Wooten's Everglades Airboats front gates, after several agencies, including the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, responded to the call for service late Tuesday
afternoon.

"Well first of all I believe the crews probably looked at each other and said did he say tiger?" said Chief Nolan Sapp.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, Chief Nolan Sapp, told me despite the odd call for service, his crews knew they need to stop the bleeding, care for the wounds, and keep the patient from going into shock.

"Whether it's a tiger or a dog or an alligator, it's still an animal bite. And other than the means in which it was conducted it's all still similar to each other," said Sapp.

The report from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said Martinez reached through the fence to pet the tiger while the animal was being fed by its caretaker in an outer enclosure.

Friday, Collier County Sheriff's Office released bodycam footage of the incident.

In a blog post–Wooten's Airboats said the employee was not authorized to enter the tiger’s enclosure.

A topic that I discovered is being talked about by the FWC.

On their website under their rules and regulations, for owning animals like tigers it says:

The FWC Captive Wildlife Office is currently reviewing rules related to the following:

  • adding a prohibition on unauthorized persons breaching safety barriers (68a-6.009, f.a.c.)

On Wednesday, I asked FWC's Public Information Coordinator Shannon Knowles if this meant there are not any current rules against people breaching these barriers.

Currently, there are no criminal penalties in Florida law regarding unauthorized individuals breaching safety barriers of big cat enclosures. The FWC is evaluating future modifications to that rule.
Shannon Knowles, Public Information Coordinator Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement

On Wednesday, when we spoke with families leaving Wooten's Airboats, their first question to us was about the status of the tiger.

In their report, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said the tiger is not injured.