In a hair-raising incident, witnessed by scores and captured live on many cameras, a 200kg white tiger mauled and killed a youth after he fell into the animal's moat in the Delhi zoo, eyewitnesses and officials said on Tuesday.
The incident, which took place between 12.30pm and 1pm, created a sensation and word soon spread through the city, with photos and video of the tiger — one of the zoo's star attractions — dragging the youth going viral.
Eyewitnesses and zoo officials said the young man, who was later identified as Maksood, 20, a resident of Anand Parbat in Delhi, had "crossed the stand-off barrier" of the white tiger's enclosure and then fell or jumped into the moat which separated the enclosure from the visitors' gallery.
The majestic six-foot, seven-year-old tiger, named Vijay, which was some distance away, saw the man in the concrete moat, that was covered with dry leaves, and bounded up to him.
Footages showed the tiger glowering face to face at the man, as it initially appeared to be surprised on seeing the sudden human intrusion into its habitat.
"As soon as the youth fell into the moat, the tiger approached him and silently watched him for nearly 15 minutes," Bittoo, an eyewitness, who recorded the entire incident on his mobile, told media persons. He said what possibly provoked the tiger to attack the man was when onlookers and a guard tried to divert its attention by pelting stones at it.
Zoo workers carry the body of a youth who was killed by the white tiger. (PTI photo)
"Everyone was pelting stones and making noises to divert the tiger's attention," Bittoo added. "It was then that the tiger pounced on the youth with his paw and dragged him inside his enclosure by his neck," Bittoo told IANS. The tiger then dropped the limp body at the far end of the enclosure.
Another eyewitness Himanshu said: "The man was cowering in fear and appeared to be pleading with folded hands to the tiger to spare him."
Some eyewitnesses said it was not clear whether the man was drunk or he was clicking photos of the tiger when he accidently fell from the cemented fencing. Delhi Police official said post mortem report will reveal whether the man was drunk and fell accidently or jumped knowingly.
Police is also investigating why the man came alone to the zoo.
The white tiger staring at the youth minutes before killing him at the Delhi zoo.
A statement by Amitabh Agnihotri, the zoo director, said: "An unfortunate incident occurred in the National Zoological Park around 1pm when a male visitor named Maksood, son of Mehfooz, resident of Gali No. 11, Anand Parvat, aged 20 years crossed the stand off barrier of the white tiger's enclosure ... and jumped into the enclosure.
"Praveen, guard posted at the enclosure, sounded the alarm and collected his supervisor and other staff of the zoo by sending wireless SOS message. Praveen along with other staff of the zoo tried to divert the attention of the tiger from the visitor but to no avail. The tiger mauled the visitor who died on the spot. The ambulance and police were called immediately."
National Zoological Park curator RA Khan told IANS that the youth himself jumped into the tiger's enclosure. "The tiger was later locked up. The tiger will be kept under observation and medically examined," Khan said.
The space where the white tiger stays comprises of a moat, a natural space for the animal to roam around and a concrete enclosure. There are in all ten tigers in Delhi zoo, six of them white and four Bengal tigers.
Policemen inspect the body of the youth who was killed by a white tiger at the zoo in New Delhi. (AP photo)
"All the enclosures of the National Zoological Park are absolutely safe. No visitor can reach the moat wall of the enclosure without the stand off barrier. The visitor crossed the stand off barrier and ultimately jumped into the enclosure which lead to his death by the tiger," the zoo statement added.
The National Zoological Park, located in the centre of the capital and one of the oldest in the country, is spread over 176 acres is home to about 1,556 different birds and animals. Delhi Zoo sees footfalls of 5,000 to 6,000 on weekdays and 12,000 to 13,000 on weekends.
Suparna Ganguly, founder trustee of Bangalore-based Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, an NGO for animal rehabilitation, said the tiger was not at fault.
"We get to see a lot of hooliganism among zoo visitors. People misbehave, disturb and harass the animals who have already been deprived of their natural habitat."
But many thought that since there was a considerable gap between the man falling into the tiger enclosure and the animal attacking him, zoo authorities could have reacted with greater alacrity and could have been better equipped to handle this emergency.
This was not the first such instance in Delhi Zoo. Six years ago a drunk man had fallen into the enclosure of a lion but the lioness had spared him.
Earlier too many such cases have been reported from Indian zoos, including one in July 2012 when a 32-year-old man was mauled and seriously injured by a tiger after he sneaked into its enclosure at the Jharkhand zoo.
Inadequate response, unruly visitors led to zoo death: Experts
Lack of an adequate response mechanism by the authorities and unruly behaviour of visitors led to the unfortunate incident at the Delhi zoo Tuesday, where a white tiger mauled a man to death, wildlife experts said.
"The zoo certainly lacks adequate response mechanism. If the tiger had not attacked the man for 15 minutes, then the authorities could have used a tranquiliser and at least tried to divert his attention," Jaya Simha, managing director of Humane Society International (India), told IANS.
According to witnesses, the white tiger attacked the man after almost 15 minutes of his falling into the enclosure.
A screenshot of the video showing the white tiger moments before killing the man inside Delhi zoo.
She said that as the animals are kept in an artificial environment, they tend to reflect stereotypical behaviour.
"Zoos in India do not follow the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority. The zoo should have had enough guards and enough distance from the enclosures. The zoo has lost the essence of being a centre of education and conservation," Simha said.
Suparna Ganguly, founder trustee of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) in Bangalore, told IANS over phone that the onus cannot be put totally on the authorities but the visitors too.
"We get to see a lot of hooliganism in zoos. People misbehave, disturb and harass the animals who have already been deprived of their natural habitat and kept in enclosures," Ganguly said.
Wildlife expert Ajay Suri agreed: "The onus for the incident lies at many places. But there should be some mechanism in these zoos that visitors are at least given some basic education about the behaviour of the wild cats." The experts said it was time for the government to think and analyse the need of having zoos in the country.
"It has now become crucial that the government should rethink about having zoos as a place for education and conservation. It should only be a place for captive breeding and they should be let off," Ganguly said.
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