Rare 375-pound white tiger reportedly mauls zookeeper in Japan

A White Bengal tiger stretches as it yawns at Dusit Zoo in Bangkok

A zookeeper has been mauled to death by a rare white tiger at an animal park in southern Japan, officials said today.

The keeper, identified as 40-year-old Akira Furusho, was discovered collapsed and bleeding from bites to his neck inside the tiger's enclosure at the Hirakawa Zoological Park, in Kagoshima, southern Japan, shortly after the zoo closed on Monday evening.

After the incident, the tiger, which is among four at the zoo, was shot with a tranquilizer gun.

Zoo officials say they believe Furusho was attacked while trying to move a male tiger from its exhibition cage to its night-time cage.

The victim was rushed off to hospital but soon died from his injuries. His autopsy results are pending. No one reportedly saw the moment of the attack.

Zoo director Akinori Ishido told a televised news conference that he was saddened by the loss of his staff.

"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.

The keeper somehow had entered the same space with the animal, Ishido said.

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.

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