Eko : Requiem for a Tiger

Karen Coney Coplin

Nearly forty years ago, a magnificent movie, Amadeus, won numerous awards including the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. Although set in another age centuries ago, it portrayed the reality of life then as well as now, as some things never change: humanity experiences the good, uplifting passages of time, and not so good, when darker times prevail. Then, we have the option to respond tenderly and with poignancy.

In this movie, an unsettling scene brought a masked messenger to “Herr Mozart.” He asked the musical prodigy to accept a commission and compose music for a dead man. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart asked, “Who is dead?” the anonymous visitor replied: “He was a man who deserved a Requiem Mass, but did not receive one.” This unsettling on-screen exchange had been buried in my memory for some time. It was recently resurrected when I learned of plans in the works to rename a city lake in memory of Malayan tiger Eko.

Like a cinematic masterpiece, Eko also was magnificent and beloved. But, he was shot and killed at the Naples Zoo in late December last year after a member of the nighttime third-party cleaning crew bypassed the zoo’s barriers and stuck his arm in Eko’s cage. Somehow this worker was able to call 911 and in the ensuing chaos, a sheriff’s deputy fired a fatal shot to free the man from Eko’s grasp.

This made national news. There was an outpouring of every conceivable emotion, especially sadness, coming from every corner of this earth. What, then, is an appropriate requiem, an act or token of remembrance, for a tiger? Eko’s life in Naples deserves one. Many of us locals are still grieving. We share the sentiments of 50 year Naples resident and devoted Naples Zoo member, Sally Anderson, who expressed her feelings, four months after Eko’s death, as being numb and “without words.” Her heart aches for his caretakers and the many others affected by Eko’s loss of life. She added, “Hopefully, the powers that be will be proactive rather than reactive,” to ensure that a similar tragic outcome does not occur

Another frequent zoo visitor, Marc Minisci, told me that his sons, Jackson, 9, and Jude, 5, loved Eko. His youngest had the good fortune of participating in a holiday camp held at the zoo, just before Eko was killed. Marc explained that the zookeepers were utterly bereft and took great pains to carefully and gingerly explain some of the details to the young students when they returned to the zoo after Eko’s death.

As a family, Marc said that they are truly heartbroken and hope that better safety measures are in place going forward. Back in 2016, Marc and I joined forces in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting. We wanted to bear witness to those who were murdered. Many people came together in grief and purpose at a beachfront vigil.

Here, Marc and I talked about what might be helpful in this situation. Everyone was saddened by Eko’s death. But what to do? One healing answer came to mind when a Lake Park and Chicago resident, Jan Chattler, awoke one morning shortly after Eko was killed. She had the powerful thought to memorialize the tiger with a symbolic act. She resides on a peaceful lake near the Naples Zoo which is being dredged presently; as such, she had numerous notices and points of contact from the city about this activity.

Upon learning that this body of water was called “Lake 19,” she set the wheels in motion to have it renamed Eko Lake. At the time this goes to press, the Community Services Advisory Board will have received further input, and, it appears this matter will be submitted to the Naples City Council to adopt by resolution at the April 6 meeting. Jan, together with her sister, Sue Schulte, like so many others, remember Eko as a gorgeous animal and a special creature: an ambassador for all endangered species. We can’t undo the senseless human action which resulted in his death, though, let his loss not be in vain.

Creatures like Eko and his circumstances remind us of the fragility of life. No future moment is guaranteed. And, that he would die in a facility which was intended to protect him while educating the community makes his loss all the more heartbreaking. Yet, Eko’s short time in Naples can continue to inspire and teach us.

This was understood immediately by Jan’s Lake Park lakefront neighbors, especially the children in the neighborhood. Their parents unanimously signed the petition she presented to rename the lake. The plans for this memorial are in motion. It is likely that a memorial plaque and a sculptural rendering of Eko will be installed at the lake, which is located just south of Fleischmann Park between 14th Ave. N. and 15th Ave. N, so very near the Naples Zoo.

Future Eko Lake
Courtesy photographer Marc Minisci

We all need water to live. As Jacques Yves Cousteau once said, “…the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” It’s fitting and wonderful, especially in the Lunar Year of the Tiger, that Jan took action to create a lasting memorial for Eko in a place of nature.

Caring people make a difference. It only takes one to lead the way. The city staff and council, Jan’s neighbors and so many others, plus those associated with the Naples Zoo, are fully prepared to support this simple yet meaningful measure to keep Eko alive in our hearts, minds and community.

Email Karen at NaplesKCC@gmail.com to share future article ideas. Follow her on Instagram @naplesbythenumbers for adventures about life in Naples.

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