HONG KONG — A zookeeper in Japan died after being mauled by a rare white tiger, his supervisor said on Tuesday.
The zookeeper, Akira Furusho, was found bleeding from the neck in a cage at the Hirakawa Zoological Park in the southern city of Kagoshima on Monday evening, Kyodo News reported.
Riku, the 5-year-old male tiger that mauled Mr. Furusho, was sedated by rescue workers who arrived at the scene. Mr. Furusho, 40, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
No one was around at the time of the episode, “and we cannot imagine what happened,” Akinori Ishido, the zoo’s director, told reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s extremely regrettable to lose staff in this way,” he added.
Kyodo reported Tuesday that the police are investigating how the zoo cares for Riku and its three other white tigers. The news agency said that around the time of the attack, the staff had planned to move Riku from a display cage to his sleeping chamber.
Mr. Ishido told reporters that staff members are not permitted to be in cages with dangerous animals, but that the rule was evidently broken in this case, The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
The zoo opened in 1972 and has more than 1,000 animals, including koalas, polar bears and red pandas, according to its website. Kyodo reported that Riku the white tiger is nearly six feet long and weighs about 375 pounds — as much as some sumo wrestlers.
The Hirakawa Zoological Park was open on Tuesday, Kyodo reported, but access to the area near the tiger display was restricted.
The episode was not the first tiger attack on a zookeeper in Japan.
In 2008, for example, a Siberian tiger attacked and killed Atsushi Ito, a zookeeper who had been cleaning its cage at a zoo in Kyoto, the country’s former imperial capital, Kyodo reported. He died from a broken neck.
The police later said they believed Mr. Ito had failed to close the doors to the cage properly after luring the tiger into a neighboring one by leaving a chicken inside.
White tigers are Bengal tigers — not albinos or a separate species, as commonly thought, according to the Wildcat Sanctuary, a big-cat rescue facility in Minnesota. They are produced when two Bengal tigers with a recessive gene that controls coat color are bred together.
Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo.