A 25-year-old man died Thursday after being mauled by a Bengal tiger in a holding pen operated by an animal leasing firm in Machida, western Tokyo, police said. The man was identified as Masaru Watanabe, a part-time employee at the facility. He appeared to have been bitten in the neck when he was feeding the animal, police said. Watanabe was found lying on the ground in front of the tiger’s cage by another staff member just after noon, according to police. According to her account, the fur around the tiger’s mouth was bloody and Watanabe was bleeding from the neck when she found him. Rescuers could not approach him immediately because the beast was pacing around outside its cage. The tiger, a 3-year-old male, was later tranquilized with a blow dart by personnel from a local zoo and put back in its cage. It was killed by lethal injection in the evening. Rescuers rushed the unconscious Watanabe to a hospital, but it was later confirmed that he had died, probably almost instantly, due to hemorrhagic shock. The facility is used to house a range of creatures owned by Ikeda Animal Production, a company based in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward that leases out animals for use on television shows and for other purposes. Although permission from the metropolitan government is needed to keep such dangerous animals, Tokyo city officials said that Ikeda Animal Production did not have such a permit for the tiger. Police were questioning related parties and said they might open an investigation into the company and its president for possible violations of local ordinances. Police said Watanabe went to feed the tiger at around 10:30 a.m. When he did not return after an hour, the other staff member went to see what was keeping him and found him lying on his back in front of the cage, located on the second floor of the holding facility. According to investigators, the tiger’s cage is adjacent to the main building of the facility and animal keepers can feed the beast by opening a connecting sliding door and then opening the cage. The entryway, however, is held in place by a single metal wire and police said there was a danger that the tiger could have escaped and made its way out through the building. Sources close to the rental firm said the tiger was considered tame and at times it would be let out of its cage to be fed. Watanabe had been working as an animal keeper for three years, they added. Also kept at the Machida facility are about 10 dogs, a number of cats and an Indian python. While there are usually six staff on duty, at the time of the incident there were only three people present. Trade in tigers is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. But officials at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which keeps tabs on the importation of endangered animals, said their records show that only eight tigers have been imported since 1997 and they were all bought by zoos. They said this tiger was not one of the eight. While it may have been a cub born to a tiger brought to Japan before the nation joined CITES, the Environment Agency said it had no registration of the tiger, which is required when the animals are bought or sold in Japan.
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