Photo/Illutration Police investigators enter the zoo office for their search at the Nasu Safari Park in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, on Jan. 7. (Yoichi Tsubura)

NASU, Tochigi Prefecture—Tochigi prefectural police on Jan. 7 searched the Nasu Safari Park here after an uncaged Bengal tiger attacked and injured three zookeepers.

About 20 investigators from the Nasushiobara Police Station and the prefectural police headquarters gathered at a parking area of the zoo in the morning.

They entered the main office at 9:30 a.m. with cardboard boxes and seized documents and other possible evidence of negligence resulting in injury.

According to Naoto Kuzuhara, the 46-year-old manager of the zoo, a 26-year-old female zookeeper entered the building where animal cages are located and tried to pass through it for a safety check of the zoo at 8:17 a.m. on Jan. 5.

Zookeepers usually do not go through the building for safety checks, but the woman used it to avoid the frost on the ground, Kuzuhara said.

A male zookeeper, 21, waited outside the building to turn the power on after the safety check.

He heard his colleague scream and saw her and Volta, an 11-year-old male Bengal tiger, in the passageway for zookeepers.

Volta should have been locked in his cage from the previous evening.

A 24-year-old male zookeeper and a 22-year-old female zookeeper tried to rescue the first woman, but they were also attacked by the 2-meter-long tiger that weighs 150 to 160 kilograms.

Around 8:55 a.m., an animal doctor shot Volta with a tranquilizer gun. Kuzuhara then reported the incident to police.

“We will thoroughly investigate the accident to find out why it happened and will take appropriate measures to prevent a recurrence,” Kuzuhara told reporters.

On Jan. 4, the tiger was put on display and was supposed to return to his cage just after 4:30 p.m. when the park is closed.

Two zookeepers in charge confirmed that Volta returned to the animal passage that day, but they were unsure about whether the tiger entered his cage, sources said.

The door of the cage was found closed and locked on Jan. 5, and food was left untouched inside.

According to the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this is the first animal-related incident at a zoo in which as many as three people suffered injuries.

At Nasu Safari Park, lions attacked workers in 1997 and 2000.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yoichi Tsubura and Satomi Ono.)