On Friday, September 21, A man was viciously mauled by a 400-pound tiger after leaping into the animal’s den at New York’s Bronx Zoo yesterday attempting to “be one with the tiger.” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said that based on a complaint from the zoo and his own admissions, the hospitalized Villalobos faces criminal charges once he’s doctors releases the patient.
David Villalobos, 25, of Mahopac, New York, was in condition after being attacked by Bachuta, an 11-year-old male Amur tiger.
Associated Press reports that presently, Villalobos’ medical situation is stable.
Villalobos also had his back bitten, where a fang punctured his lung, and his body clawed, after throwing himself from a moving monorail over a protective fence into the tiger’s enclosure.
The man was alone with the tiger for about 10 minutes before he was rescued by zoo officials, who used a fire extinguisher to chase Bachuta away.
As well as suffering bites and punctures on his arms, legs, shoulders and back, Villalobos broke an arm and a leg, possibly in the 16-foot-plus fall.
Earlier, police said the man had to have a foot amputated after the savage attack, but officials later said that was not the case.
Zoo workers immediately ran into the den and restrained the tiger while the injured man was rescued. After scaring the beast away, the 25-year-old was instructed to roll under a hot wire to safety, officials said.
The keepers then called the tiger into its exhibit holding area and secured him there. Bachuta will be back on exhibit this weekend and will not be euthanized, officials said.
“The tiger did nothing wrong in this episode,” Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny said at a press conference. “When someone is determined to do something harmful to themselves, it’s very hard to stop that.”
The tiger mauling happened at around 3pm in the Wild Asia exhibit, where a train with open sides takes visitors over the Bronx River and through a forest.
From there they glide along the top edge of a fence past elephants, deer and a tiger enclosure.
Passengers aren’t strapped in on the ride, and the man apparently jumped out of his train car with a leap powerful enough to clear the 16-foot-high perimeter fence.
He was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center in critical condition. He was, however, conscious and talking after the mauling.
Villalobos told his rescuers that he had jumped into the den on purpose because he ‘wanted to die’, reported NBC news. However, he changed his statement to wanting to “be one with the tiger.”
A witness tweeted, “Someone jumped the gate at the bronx zoo n got mauled by a tiger now in jacobi ER.#lmfao.’” [sic]
Initial reports suggest that the man may be emotionally disturbed.
“The tiger was minding his own business,” New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told ABC News, “up until the man cleared two sets of fences to get into the enclosure.”
But his family, who had no idea he had gone to the zoo yesterday, were perplexed as to what went wrong.
“He’s amazing and he loves everybody,” the victim’s sister told The New York Daily News. “I really don’t know what happened.”
Officials believe Villalobos was visiting the zoo by himself. He had recently posted photos of tigers on his Facebook page, including one on Thursday of a mother licking her cub.
The Bronx Zoo, one of the nation’s largest zoos, sprawls over 265 acres and contains hundreds of animals, many in habitats meant to resemble natural settings.
Its exhibits include Tiger Mountain, Congo Gorilla Forest and World of Reptiles.
There are 10 tigers at the Wild Asia exhibit, but Bashuta was the only one on display at the time of the attack. Bashuta has been at the zoo for three years.
There are no surveillance cameras in that area of the exhibit.
Zoo officials said they would review safety procedures but believe this was a highly unusual occurrence.
“We review everything, but we honestly think we provide a safe experience,” Breheny said.
“And this is just an extraordinary occurrence… somebody was deliberately trying to endanger themselves.”
He added: “I think it’s safe to say that if the tiger really wanted to do harm to this individual, he certainly would have had the time to do that.”
Breheny applauded his staff for acting quickly in the extraordinary situation, adding that the man was lucky to escape Bashuta with his life.
“We were able to prevent a bad situation from turning into a real tragedy,” Breheny said.
“We did not have to use deadly force but we were prepared to do so. We’ve never had a single incident like this. You have to be determined to jump out,” he added.
Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, are the largest of the big cats and can weigh up to 674 pounds.
Although rare, deadly animal attacks in zoos across the country have happened before. On Christmas Day 2007, a man was killed at the San Francisco Zoo, when a 300-pound tiger named Tatiana escaped her cage and savaged him.
• In 1985, Robin Silverman, a 24-year-old zookeeper, was killed when she was attacked by two Siberian tigers at the Bronx Zoo while trying to clean their cage.
• In 1987, an 11-year-old boy was killed by a polar bear at the Prospect Park Zoo after climbing into its enclosure when the zoo was closed.
• In July 1994, a 29-year-old Australian tourist named Kathryn Warburton suffered a broken leg and bite wounds when she climbed a fence and railing at the Anchorage Zoo, Alaska, to get close-up pictures of a polar bear named Binky.
• In 2005, a male gorilla attacked and bit a 32-year-old female intern keeper at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo after she was mistakenly sent into an outdoor gorilla exhibit while the animals were present.
• On Christmas Day 2007, a man was killed at the San Francisco Zoo, when a 300-pound tiger named Tatiana escaped her cage.
• In March 2010, a woman’s thumb and forefinger were bitten off and her middle and ring fingers partially munched when she was attacked by two bears at the zoo in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, after ignoring barriers and warning signs.
“Tigers are extremely capable predators: They typically grab a prey animal by the back of the neck and it’s over very quickly,” said a zoo spokesperson. “This cat did not do this to the individual.”
The motive behind the jump has still yet to be seen (maybe he just wanted to see what the tiger pit was all about?).