A white tiger attacked and killed a young man who appeared to have jumped over a barricade into an enclosure at the Delhi zoo on Tuesday, officials said.
Witnesses said the tiger grabbed the young man by the neck as horrified onlookers at the National Zoological Park near Sundar Nagar screamed and threw sticks and stones to try and save him.
Television footage showed the frightened man crouching against a wall as the tiger stared into his face.
One witness said he raced to the enclosure after hearing screams to see the victim locked in the tiger's jaws, “writhing badly in pain”.
The deceased was identified as Maqsood, a factory worker and resident of central Delhi’s Anand Parbat. His parents said the 19-year-old was mentally ill and addicted to bhang.
Despite repeated warnings that he shouldn't get too close to the outdoor enclosure, Maqsood eventually climbed over a knee-high fence, through some small hedges, then jumped down 18 feet into a protective moat, said zoo director Amitabh Agnihotri.
The enclosed space is separated from visitors by a concrete ditch, with shrubs on the tiger’s side followed by a two-foot railing.
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Authorities eventually frightened the tiger into a small cage inside the enclosure. Maqsood, whose body remained in the outdoor enclosure two hours after the attack, was dead by the time help reached him.
“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.”The zoo did have tranquiliser guns, said manager Riaz Khan. "But by the time we could arrange them, the man was dead."
The zoo authorities have been booked for causing death by negligence, police said.
Six years ago an inebriated man fell into a lioness’ enclosure but the big cat spared his life, zoo officials said.
India is home to 1,706 Royal Bengal tigers and fewer than 100 white tigers, according to the last census in 2011. All the white tigers are in captivity.
(With agency inputs)