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Man Suffers Critical Injuries After Jumping Into Tiger's Den At Bronx Zoo

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A 25-year-old man suffered multiple injuries Friday after he intentionally jumped into the tiger's den at the Bronx Zoo.

The victim, identified as David Villalobos of Putnam County, suffered puncture wounds to his back and sustained a broken ankle and broken arm in the incident, police said. The NYPD originally indicated Villalobos had lost a leg.

Villalobos was rushed to Jacobi Hospital in critical condition after facing off with a roughly 400-pound Siberian tiger named "Bachuta" for about 10 minutes, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported.

1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon Reports


"We did not have to use deadly force [on the tiger], but we were prepared to do so if necessary," Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny told reporters, including CBS 2's Derricke Dennis.

The incident happened around 3:45 p.m. while Villalobos was riding the monorail, a witness told 1010 WINS.

Sources also told CBS 2's Dennis the man may have had a mental illness and that he was screaming "I want to die!" when he jumped off the monorail, which doesn't strap in passengers.

"When someone is determined to do something harmful to themselves, it's very hard to stop them," Breheny said at a news conference.

Zoo officials said Villalobos was "conscious and talking" before being rushed to the hospital.

"If not for the quick response by our staff and their ability to perform well in emergency situations, the outcome would have been very different," Breheny said.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told 1010 WINS that Villalobos jumped from an area near the monorail, clearing two fences, including one that was electrified, with one leap to get into the tiger area in an apparent suicide attempt.

David Villalobos
David Villalobos (credit: Facebook)

"We don't have any indication yet of what motivated him. Certainly, we can't think of any rational reason to do that and up until that point, the tiger had been minding its own business," Browne told 1010 WINS.

"That seems very out of character, if it's true about what he did," one of Villalobos' neighbors said.

Bronx Zoo officials released a statement Friday afternoon, which said in part: "Our emergency response staff immediately went to the site and used a CO2 fire extinguisher to move the tiger away from the person.  Once the tiger backed off, the man was instructed to roll under a hot wire to safety. The keepers were able to call the tiger into its off-exhibit holding area and safely secured the animal."

Rincon of 1010 WINS reported that on the Facebook page bearing Villalobos' name there are a series of animal pictures, including one with tigers.  The page also featured one posting promoting a vegetarian diet.

A woman who was also riding the monorail said some passengers at the far end of the train contacted the conductor, telling him to stop because someone had jumped off.

"Witnesses said he jumped off the monorail into the tiger enclosure, which is open -- it's outside and they stopped the train.  Security was called, they shut down the monorail and they called out all the security to come look and I did hear them saying there's definitely something happening in the tiger enclosure," that witness said.

Well-known tiger expert Larry Wallach said Villalobos is extremely lucky.

"Really he should've been dead. Tigers are man eaters, they're eating machines, all they do is kill, kill, kill. There's no love affair between a human and a tiger," Wallach said.

Zoo officials said the tiger will not be quarantined or removed. They said he'll be back on display in the tiger's den soon.

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