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Mauled NY man: I wanted ‘to be one with the tiger’

The ticket booths are empty gates are chained shut an entrance Bronx Zoo New York Friday Sept. 21 2012. Zoo

The ticket booths are empty and the gates are chained shut at an entrance to the Bronx Zoo in New York, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Zoo officials say a visitor who leaped into an exhibit and was mauled by a tiger was alone with the 400-pound beast for about 10 minutes before being rescued. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerlad)

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Updated: September 22, 2012 11:31PM

NEW YORK — Before his tangle with a Bronx Zoo tiger, David Villalobos adorned his Facebook page with New Age odes to Mother Earth and affirmations such as “Be love and fearless.”

Police said Saturday that Villalobos had told detectives that he leaped from an elevated train without fear into the animal’s den.

Why? “He wanted to be one with the tiger,” police said.

Villalobos, 25, also recounted how he landed on all fours and was attacked by the 400-pound beast and was dragged around by his foot, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said. Despite his serious injuries, Villalobos claimed he was able to get his wish: to pet the tiger — a male Siberian named Bashuta, Browne said.

Villalobos, still in the hospital Saturday, was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, based on his admissions and a complaint from the zoo, police said. It was unclear whether Villalobos, a real estate agent, had an attorney, and attempts to reach his relatives were unsuccessful.

Villalobos’ exploits Friday afternoon were an instant tabloid sensation: A front page New York Post story on Saturday was headlined “MAULED!” The Daily News countered with “ZOO-ICIDE,” speculating a death wish.

Police had said earlier that Villalobos admitted to a police officer at the scene that he made a conscious decision to jump — “Everyone has a reason for what they do in life,” he was quoted as saying — but that his motives were murky.

That changed when, during a follow-up interview Saturday, Villalobos told detectives that “his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger,” Browne said.

Browne said Villalobos was charged because he had gone “beyond a perimeter security fence and an electrified wire designed to keep the public out and the tiger in.”

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described Villalobos’ actions as “foolish,” in part because they put zoo personnel “in harm’s way.”

Villalobos’ right shoulder, right rib, right ankle and pelvis were broken, he had a collapsed lung and he had bites and punctures on his arms, legs, shoulders and back. Police said there was no indication he was intoxicated.

The Wild Asia exhibit that’s home to the tiger was operating as usual on Saturday, zoo officials said, declining to comment further.

Villalobos’ Facebook page makes clear his infatuation with wildlife. One of several postings from Thursday was a photo of a tiger licking a cub, and the comment, “Nice.” Another was of a black jaguar.

An earlier post displayed a promo for a movie called “Facing Animals,” a Dutch documentary about “the complex and often bizarre relationship between man and animal.”

His comment: “This looks fascinating.”

Villalobos’ bizarre encounter began with a ride on the elevated train that takes visitors over the Bronx River and through a forest, where they glide along the top edge of a fence past elephants, deer and a tiger enclosure. He and a date had taken in the same sights from the monorail during a visit to the zoo about two weeks ago, police said Saturday.

This time without warning, Villalobos apparently jumped out of his train car and cleared the 16-foot-high perimeter fence. He was alone with Bashuta for about 10 minutes before he was rescued by zoo officials, who used a fire extinguisher to chase the animal away.

The zookeepers instructed him to roll under an electrified wire to get to safety, zoo director Jim Breheny said. They then called the tiger into a holding area.

The Bronx Zoo, one of the nation’s largest zoos, sprawls over 265 acres and contains hundreds of animals, many in habitats meant to resemble natural settings. Its exhibits include Tiger Mountain, Congo Gorilla Forest and World of Reptiles.

There are 10 tigers at the Wild Asia exhibit, but the 11-year-old Bashuta was the only one on display at the time. Zoo officials said he would remain in the rotation.

“When someone is determined to do something harmful to themselves, it’s very hard to stop that,” Breheny said. “The tiger did nothing wrong.”

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