White tiger kills Japan zookeeper in rare attack

A white tiger attacked and killed a zookeeper in its enclosure in southern Japan but the animal will be kept alive at the request of the victim's family, officials said Tuesday.

"A zookeeper was found collapsed in a cage, bleeding," a local police official told AFP, adding the man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

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The attack happened late Monday at the Hirakawa Zoological Park in the southern city of Kagoshima.

Akira Furusho, 40, was discovered bleeding from the neck and officials believe he was mauled by one of the zoo's four rare white tigers, zoo officials said.

The zoo said the five-year-old male tiger, named Riku, was sedated with a tranquiliser gun after the attack, as rescue workers and police rushed to the scene.

"We plan not to kill Riku and continue to keep it because the bereaved family asked us to do so," said Takuro Nagasako, a zoo official.

While the zoo was open as normal on Tuesday, the white tiger observation zone was restricted "as police continued to investigate the case," Nagasako told AFP.

Riku -- about 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) in length and weighing some 170 kilogrammes (374 pounds) -- was born at the zoo with two other white tigers.

Tiger attacks are extremely rare in Japan, with the last one dating back to 2008, when a Siberian tiger mauled to death a zookeeper who had been trying to encourage the animal to mate.

In 1997, a Japanese couple were killed when they were attacked by tigers at a safari park in central Japan.

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