White tiger kills zookeeper in Japan but family urges mercy

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White tiger (file photo)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
It's not clear what triggered the white tiger's attack (file photo)

A rare white tiger has mauled a zookeeper to death in its enclosure at a zoo in Japan, officials say.

Akira Furusho, 40, was found bleeding from the neck in the tiger's cage at the zoo in the southern city of Kagoshima. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.

The male tiger, named Riku, was sedated with a tranquiliser before rescue workers and police arrived.

It is to be kept alive following a request from the victim's family.

"We plan not to kill Riku and continue to keep it because the bereaved family asked us to do so," said Takuro Nagasako, a zoo official said, quoted by the AFP news agency.

The attack took place late on Monday at the Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima.

It is thought it happened as Mr Furusho went to clean the tiger's enclosure. Tigers are normally removed from the display pen to a separate area before staff enter.

Police are now investigating how the zoo looks after the four white tigers it keeps.

In 2017, a British zookeeper was killed by a tiger in its enclosure in a Cambridgeshire zoo while in Russia, a keeper survived a tiger attack in the city of Kaliningrad.

White tigers

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
White tigers are an endangered species
  • White tigers are a rare variant of the orange Bengal sub-species and owe their colour to a recessive gene
  • Today, they are exclusively in captive programmes where the limited numbers are interbred to maintain the distinctive fur colour
  • A number of the white tigers found in zoos have health issues, such as eyesight problems and deformities
  • The last known free-ranging white tiger is known to have been shot in 1958, before which sporadic sightings in the wild were made in India