Bronx Zoo tiger mauls Mahopac man
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A Mahopac man was mauled by a tiger after he jumped from a monorail into the animal's enclosure at the Bronx Zoo on Friday.
The 25-year-old man, identified by police as David Villalobos of Mahopac, was riding in the rear car of the the elevated Wild Asia Monorail shortly after 3 p.m. when he jumped, cleared a fence, and plummeted about 20 feet into the tigers' area, zoo officials said. He was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, where he underwent surgery Friday night.
Passengers aren't strapped in on the ride that has open sides, and Villalobos apparantly jumped out of his train car - the last one on the monorail - with a leap powerful enough to clear the perimeter fence.
Only one tiger was in the outside portion of the exhibit at the time, zoo director Jim Breheny said -- a 400-pound, 11-year-old Siberian tiger named Bachuta.
Villalobos broke an arm and an ankle in the fall after jumping from the monorail car, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said. He was incapacitated when the tiger approached him.
Villalobos "received various bites or puncture wounds on his arms and legs and also near the top of his shoulder on his back," Breheny said. However, zoo officials don't believe the tiger intended to kill the Mahopac man.
"Tigers are extremely capable predators and what they typically do is grab a prey animal by the back of the neck and it's over very quickly," Breheny said. "This cat did not do this to this individual."
Breheny was alone with the tiger for almost 10 minutes before zoo staff were able to fend the tiger off and lure it back to its indoor holding area. Zoo staff were alerted by the monorail operators, who called security when they saw Villalobos jump -- but the other passengers did not see the tiger maul Villalobos because the monorail kept moving, Breheny said. Officials believe Villalobos was visiting the zoo alone.
"Our emergency response staff immediately went to the site and used a CO2 fire extinguisher to move the tiger away from the person," zoo director Jim Breheny said in a statement. "Once the tiger backed off, the man was instructed to roll under a hot wire to safety."
The zoo keepers then maneuvered the tiger into its holding area and secured the animal, Breheny said.
Villalobos was conscious and talking as an ambulance rushed him to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, said police, who described him as an "emotionally disturbed man." He was listed in critical condition with puncture wounds to his back, a broken ankle and a broken arm.
"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," said Breheny.
Villalobos is a 2006 graduate of Mahopac High School, and played on the football team there, according to records. His family could not be reached Friday evening.
Neighbor Chris Panzarino described Villalobos as "a very good guy" who "would help you with anything."
Paul Giarraputo, who went to Mahopac High School with Villalobos, described his former classmate as a spiritual man who posted strange updates on Facebook and listed "the world of animals" among his interests in his profile on the social networking site.
"I can't put a word to describe it but a little strange to say the least," Giarraputo said of the stream-of-consciousness notes Villalobos posted to Facebook.
Annie Albohn, who lives across the street, said she has known Villalobos and his family for years.
"He's a nice kid, that's all I can say," Albohn said. "His parents are wonderful people."
Breheny said the zoo has no plans to put the tiger down, and said he did not fault the animal for its natural defense instinct. He also said it was the first incident in the zoo's history of someone jumping into an exhibit from the monorail.
"This is just an extraordinary occurence because someone was deliberately trying to endanger themselves," he said.