Incredibly rare white tiger 'mauls zookeeper to death' in its enclosure

Incredibly rare white tiger 'mauls zookeeper to death' in its enclosure

A zookeeper in Japan died this week after being fatally mauled by a rare white tiger. Akira Furusho, who was 40 years old, died on Monday evening from wounds to his neck after Riku, a five-year-old male tiger, attacked him in his cage.

According to the park's director, Akinori Ishido, nobody was around at the time the attack occurred as the zoo had already been closed to the public, "and we cannot imagine what happened".

As soon as someone was aware of what was going on, however, a veterinarian at the zoo was called to sedate the big cat using a tranquilliser dart. Once he was knocked out, rescue workers entered the enclosure to save Furusho - but, unfortunately, they were too late. The keeper died shortly after being admitted to a nearby hospital.

LUCKNOW, INDIA - APRIL 13: A white tiger is pictured at a zoo on April 13, 2016 in Lucknow, India. White tigers are found in many major zoos across India. PHOTOGRAPH BY Azam Husain / Barcroft India UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W (Photo credit should read Azam Husain/Barcroft India / Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Credit: Getty

An investigation has since been opened into how an incident like this was allowed to occur, as the zoo's safety policies and regulations should have prevented keepers from interacting with the animals under dangerous circumstances.

It is believed that the attack may have occurred while Furusho was moving Riku from his display cage, where he stays during the zoo's opening hours, to his sleeping chamber. Ishido assured reporters that members of staff are not meant to enter enclosures with dangerous animals for these procedures but, evidently, that rule was broken in this case.

According to reports, Riku is nearly six feet long and weighs approximately 375 pounds: the equivalent of a little more than two average men.

Even though he is a white tiger, Riku is not albino. He, along with three other tigers at the zoo, are rare Bengal tigers with recessive genes. They have not been spotted in the wild since the 1950s, at which time the last known living one was killed by a hunter.

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA - AUGUST 25, 2016: A white Bengal tiger cub that was born to Zaika the tigress on June 21, 2016, in the Novosibirsk Zoo. Kirill Kukhmar/TASS (Photo by Kirill KukhmarTASS via Getty Images) Credit: Getty

Despite their rarity, though, this is not the first time that a person has been killed by a white tiger in captivity.

In 2014, a man in Delhi, India, died after leaping the fence into a white tiger enclosure at the zoo. In this instance, it was believed that the man had suffered with mental health problems which may have inhibited his abilities to assess the danger of the situation he put himself in.

Japan has seen fatal tiger attacks in the past, too. In 2008, a zookeeper named Atsushi Ito was killed by a Siberian tiger while cleaning its cage. Police in the investigation said that Ito had accidentally left one of the adjacent cage doors open after luring it in with food.

As in Furusho's case, the tiger attacked Ito's neck.

A White Tiger (Panthera Tigris) walks in the Zoological Gardens in Colombo on March 2, 2010. A pair of tigers were presented by The Chinese government to the Sri Lankan zoo as a mark of friendship. February 14, 2010 marked the start of 'The Year of the Tiger' according to the Lunar Calendar. AFP PHOTO/Ishara S.KODIKARA (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images) Credit: Getty

Normally, the animal responsible for the death of a human under these circumstances would be put down, but Riku has been spared execution after Furusho's family asked the zoo not to punish him. "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.

The zoo has been open as usual since the attack, but the area around the tiger enclosure was blocked off for at least the day after.