In Brief

White tiger mauls Japanese zookeeper to death

Authorities to investigate how rare big cat was left alone in enclosure with 40-year-old Akira Furusho

A Japanese zookeeper has been fatally mauled by a rare white tiger after he entered the enclosure with the animal.

Colleagues spotted Akira Furusho, 40, collapsed and bleeding from the throat inside the tiger enclosure at Hirakawa Zoological Park, in the south of the country, on Monday evening after the zoo had closed to the public.

He had been mauled by five-year-old male Riku, one of four white tigers housed at the zoo. White tigers - Bengal tigers with a rare gene which makes their coat naturally white - are exclusively found in captivity, where they are popular with visitors and private owners.

The animal was sedated with a tranquiliser dart and Furusho was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The attack occurred around the time Furusho would normally have been cleaning the tiger enclosure, according to Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun.

However, the exact circumstances leading to his death remain unclear, as zoo protocol mandates that tigers be moved to a separate holding area before staff are allowed inside the enclosure.

Alongside the police investigation into the death, “labour authorities interviewed some workers to see if the zoo had possibly violated a law on safety at work”, reports The Japan Times.

“For some reason, Furusho and the tiger were not separated,” Akinori Ishido, director of the zoo, told reporters today. “We cannot imagine what happened. It’s extremely regrettable to lose staff in this way.”

Ishido said the family of the deceased keeper had expressed their wish for Riku to remain at the zoo.

The New York Times reports that the animal “is nearly six feet long and weighs about 375 pounds - as much as some sumo wrestlers”.

The park opened as normal today, although the tiger enclosure was sealed off from visitors, pending a police inspection of the site. 

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