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Animal sanctuary in Florida discusses safety after series of 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 1:22 PM, Mar 25, 2022

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — It’s not something you hear about every day, but even still, Collier County, Florida 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.

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 more than 30 years said crossing that boundary into a tiger’s territory is what Ignacio Martinez did.

According to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Martinez tried to pet a tiger while another Wooten's employee fed the wild animal.

It's 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.

Caron said that's 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," Caron said, referring to a rule enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

FWC leaders have said there are no criminal penalties for someone breaching an animals barrier — a situation that has happened twice in Collier County, Florida within the past three months.

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

This story was first reported by Colton Chavez at WFTS in Fort Myers, Florida.