“Sorry but I have to get this off my chest, this silly man Villalobos not only put his own life at risk (which he may not care about) but those who had to rescue him; could have been mauled or fatally injured too! I am so pleased to hear that are going to charge him. Anybody that puts their own life at risk should do so on their own accord; like climbers, skiers, pot hole divers etc. these are extreme sports…if it goes tits up for them…tough…they wanted to do it!! These rescue workers risk their lives day after day, saving numb nuts… who are 1 can short of a 6 pack…I just think it’s selfish to expect help when you yourself have gone into harms way! Those who are rescued should have to pay for the services their rescuers have had to use…but how do you put a price on a persons life??”
A man was viciously mauled by a 400-pound tiger after leaping into the animal’s den says he wanted to be ‘at one’ with the animal and was not attempting suicide.
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 tresspasser also claimed that despite his serious injuries, he was able to pet the tiger before zookeepers came to his rescue, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
Browne said that based on a complaint from the zoo and his own admissions, the hospitalized Villalobos would be arrested and charged with trespassing.
Police had said earlier that 25-year-old Villalobos admitted to a police officer making a conscious decision to jump from an elevated train into the animal’s den, but that his motives were unclear and an arrest uncertain.
That changed when, during an interview Saturday at the hospital, Villalobos told detectives that “his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger,” Browne said.
The mauling happened Friday afternoon in the Wild Asia exhibit featuring a train with open sides that takes visitors over the Bronx River and through a forest, where 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 Villalobos apparently jumped out of his train car with a leap powerful enough to clear the 16-foot-high perimeter fence.
Villalobos was alone with a male Siberian tiger named Bashuta for about 10 minutes before he was rescued by zoo officials, who used a fire extinguisher to chase the animal away, said zoo director Jim Breheny.
“When someone is determined to do something harmful to themselves,” Breheny said, “it’s very hard to stop that.”
Bashuta was returned to a holding area where it usually sleeps at night and will not be euthanized, zoo officials said. “The tiger did nothing wrong,” Breheny said.
Earlier, police said the man had to have a foot amputated after the savage attack, but officials later said that was not the case.
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.
He was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center in critical condition. He was, however, conscious and talking after the mauling.
A witness tweeted, ‘Someone jumped the gate at the bronx zoo n got mauled by a tiger now in jacobi ER.#lmfao.’ [sic]
‘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.
SAVAGE ANIMAL ATTACKS AT U.S. ZOOS
- 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.