Photo/IllutrationRiku, a 5-year-old male white tiger, that attacked zookeeper Akira Furusho at Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima on Oct. 8 (Provided by the Kagoshima city government)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KAGOSHIMA--A zookeeper died after being mauled by a rare white tiger in its enclosure at the city-run Hirakawa Zoological Park here Oct. 8 after visitors had left for the day.

A colleague found Akira Furusho, 40, collapsed and bleeding in the neck.

Furusho was rushed to a hospital in the city, where he was confirmed dead.

The tiger, a 5-year-old male called Riku, was sedated with a tranquilizer gun as rescue workers arrived on the scene, according to the Kagoshima City Fire Department.

It said a staff member at the zoo reported the attack in an emergency call for an ambulance shortly after 5 p.m., when the zoo was closed for the day.

Furusho, a resident of the city's Kinkodai district, was in charge of Riku. A city government official handling tourism promotion said a single zookeeper normally is responsible for caretaker tasks at one time.

The incident occurred after visitors had left for the day. No one else was injured.

Although the zoo opened on Oct. 9, the tiger enclosure and surrounding area was sealed off.

Police are expected to inspect the scene shortly.

According to Akinori Ishido, director of the zoo, the incident occurred during the time Furusho usually cleans the enclosure.

The zoo forbids “humans and tigers to be in the same space.”

The protocol is for the tiger to be moved to a separate den, and the door locked before a zookeeper begins cleaning an enclosure.

“For some reason, Furusho and the tiger were not separated,” Ishido said at a news conference held at the city government office on Oct. 9. “We can only speculate as to the cause.”

Ishido said that a member of Furusho’s family has expressed a wish to “keep Riku at Hirakawa zoo,” and that the zoo intends to honor the request.

The zoo started keeping white tigers after two were presented to the city by a private company in 2011.

White tigers, a variation of the Bengal tiger that inhabits India and adjacent regions, were discovered in the 1950s.

A number of white tigers are kept at zoos across Japan.

They are often born with congenital disabilities, such as joint problems, due to inbreeding and tend to have a shorter life.