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Tiger attacks Florida airboat tour worker at wildlife park

Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours in southwest Florida says it keeps two tigers as part of its wildlife attraction.
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A man was injured in a tiger attack Tuesday at a southwest Florida wildlife park connected to an Everglades airboat tours company, authorities said.

The man, who is thought to be about 50, suffered injuries to both arms, the Collier County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Sheriff’s officials responded about 4 p.m. to the Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours in Ochopee, authorities said.

The victim, an employee of Wooten's, apparently entered the tiger enclosure despite not being authorized and was attacked during feeding time overseen by a caretaker, according to officials with the company and the sheriff’s office.

The tiger, which was put under control by the caretaker, was uninjured and remains in its enclosure, authorities said. The tiger’s caretaker has worked at Wooten’s for 25 years.

The company added in a statement that the injured employee was taken to Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers without disclosing the victim's condition.

"All of us at Wooten’s offer our sincere sympathies to the employee and his family, and wish him a speedy recovery," the statement said.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson Melody Kilborn said in a statement late Tuesday that the incident was under investigation. Wooten’s is licensed to care for tigers by the state commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Kilborn's account of the attack differed.

"Preliminary findings indicate that an employee of the facility attempted to feed the tiger when he received severe injuries to his hands and arms," she said.

PETA issued a statement that reiterated its opposition to using animals for what it deems to be entertainment. As long as displays like Wooten's are allowed, it said, "This will happen again."

Visitors who go for tours of the Everglades can also stop at Wooten's Animal Sanctuary & Alligator Park. It lists two tigers, two lions and undisclosed numbers of otters, turtles, crocodiles and alligators as part of the park.

In December, a man was badly injured by a tiger when he put his arm into the cat's enclosure at the Naples Zoo, also in Collier County. The Malayan tiger, named Eko, was fatally shot by a deputy, the man was not charged, and his arm, initially slated for amputation, was reported to have been saved.

On Tuesday, the Collier County Sheriff's Office said in its statement about the attack at Wooten's, "We are having a hard time comprehending this happening again."