Police investigating the death of a Tama Zoological Park zookeeper, in the city of Hino in western Tokyo, suspect the man may have been killed by a rhinoceros under his care.
The incident occurred Sunday morning, and was reported to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Hino Police Station at around 10:50 a.m. by a senior staff member who found the wounded man in the breeding facility.
Police have identified the zookeeper as 54-year-old Junichi Asami, from Hino, and said the man was pronounced dead at the hospital with wounds to his left side and back.
According to the zoo and the police, Asami’s supervisor visited the rhinos’ enclosure, concerned that the animals hadn’t appeared in their exhibition space after opening hours, and found Asami lying outside the rhinos’ cage.
A topical medication for the rhinos was also found on the ground near Asami, they said.
The facility where the rhinoceroses are kept has several security measures, such as a cage door that can be opened and closed remotely so zookeepers don’t need to come into direct contact with the animals.
The door was properly locked when Asami was found, but the space between each bar of the cage was wide enough for a person to slip inside. It is believed that Asami had spent the morning cleaning the cage and taking care of the animals by himself.
According to the zoo operator, the rhinoceros suspected of attacking Asami is an 18-year-old male Indian rhinoceros with a body length measuring around 2 to 3 meters and weighing about 2 tons. The length of the single horn on such rhinoceroses is typically up to 20 centimeters. Tama Zoological Park currently keeps three Indian rhinos.
“It’s really regrettable that one of our staff members lost his life,” zoological park director Hirofumi Watabe told a news conference following the incident. “We would like to offer a sincere apology to all visitors for causing a disturbance.”
Watabe said the zoo would set up an investigative team to look into the cause of the incident.
Tama Zoological Park was temporarily closed Sunday afternoon following the incident, but opened again Monday morning.