Utsunomiya, Tochigi Pref. – A tiger attacked three zookeepers at a safari park north of Tokyo on Wednesday, with one staff member having her hand bitten off, police and other sources said.
The police are investigating if there were any safety flaws at Nasu Safari Park in Tochigi Prefecture after its operator said it had failed to confirm that the tiger was in its fenced enclosure the previous day.
Of the three zookeepers, all in their 20s, a second woman was bitten on several parts of her body by the 10-year old male Bengal tiger, which is around 2 meters in length and weighs 150 kilograms, the police said. The third victim, a male zookeeper, sustained an injury to the back of his head.
The female zookeeper who lost her right hand was transported to a hospital by a medical helicopter. The two others were also taken to a hospital.
The incident occurred at around 8:30 a.m., when staff members were preparing to open the park.
According to the park operator, the tiger was not in its fenced enclosure as expected but in the corridor leading to an exhibition area when it came across the keepers and attacked them.
An executive of the park said earlier in the day that one of the keepers had to enter a space where the tiger was in order to let it out due to problems with part of the doors.
That raised concerns about the management of the park.
According to a park manual, zookeepers must check that the fence to the tiger’s cage is closed after it has been led back inside following the day’s operations.
But the fence was not checked on Tuesday, and the tiger was in the corridor the following morning, the operator said.
Following the incident, the park decided to close for the day.
The park houses about 700 animals of 70 species including elephants and giraffes, offering tours on specialized buses. Customers can also tour the park in their own cars.
In both 1997 and 2000, zookeepers at the park were attacked by lions.
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