A white tiger has attacked and killed a student in New Delhi who jumped into its enclosure at the city zoo, a spokesman said yesterday.
Zoo manager Riaz Khan said the young man “leapt over the railing into the tiger enclosure”.
Television pictures showed him crouching against a wall while the tiger stood nearby.
Eyewitnesses said he had climbed over a knee-high fence, through some small hedges, then jumped down 18 feet into a protective moat around the tiger’s enclosure.
The male tiger, which lives on a grassy tree-filled island, grabbed the man from the moat. Footage broadcast on television channel NDTV showed the tiger carrying the man in its jaws.
Eventually authorities frightened the tiger into entering a small cage inside the enclosure, but the man was dead by the time help arrived, Mr Khan said.
Another eyewitness told the CNN-IBN news channel: “Around 1:30pm, we were in the reptiles’ area when we heard loud screams.
“I ran to the tiger enclosure where we saw that a white tiger had caught the man by his neck and he was writhing in pain. Some children threw small sticks and stones at the tiger [to scare it off].
“He suffered for the next 10-15 minutes, but nobody helped him.”
The witness said the police “came very quickly”, but could not save the man.
It is not unusual for visitors to a zoo in India to taunt animals or toss pieces of food through cage bars, even though zoo rules forbid it. Groups of visitors may sometimes throw used plastic water bottles or stones into animal enclosures to get the creatures to react.
“The tiger was just being a tiger,” said Belinda Wright, who has spent years working to protect India’s dwindling numbers of wild tigers. “An unusual object fell into his domain … He’s a wild animal in captivity. It is certainly not the tiger’s fault.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police MS Randhawa identified the man only as Maqsood and said he was thought to be about 20 years old.
The zoo remained open after the man was killed, although the tiger’s enclosure was sealed off while an investigation was carried out.
White tigers are a rare variant of the customary orange Bengal sub-species and owe their colouring to a recessive gene.
Considered an endangered species, they are found in south and east Asia, particularly India, but are now found exclusively in captive programmes where the limited numbers are interbred to maintain the distinctive fur colour.
The last known free-ranging white tiger is known to have been shot in 1958. Before this, there were sporadic sightings in the wild in India.