Rare White Tiger Kills Zookeeper in Japan, Family Speaks Out

By Zachary Stieber

A rare white tiger mauled a zookeeper to death in Japan, but the zookeeper’s family doesn’t want the tiger killed.

Akira Furusho, 40, was found by colleagues bleeding from the neck in the tiger’s cage at a zoo in Kagoshima after he had gone inside to clean the cage.

He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was soon pronounced dead.

However, the tiger, a 5-year-old named Riku, will not be killed because the family of the zookeeper requested so.

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

The tiger was sedated with a tranquilizer gun so that rescue workers could reach Furusho, according to the Guardian.

The attack took place late on Oct. 8 at the Hirakawa Zoological Park, according to BBC.

Local police officers said an investigation has been launched into how the white tigers are looked after at the zoo.

Riku, about six feet in length and weighing some 374 pounds, was born at the zoo, as were two of the other three white tigers currently living there.

According to AFP, the last tiger attack in Japan took place in 2008, when a Siberian tiger mauled a zookeeper to death.

White Tigers

The white tigers were traditionally a variant of the Bengal tiger, found in some states in India.

“They’re not albino or their own separate species, as many people think. White tigers occur when two Bengal tigers that carry a recessive gene controlling coat color are bred together,” according to the Wildcat Sanctuary.

Researchers said in a 2013 study that the gene producing the white and black fur combination was the same gene underlying color variation in humans, horses, and chickens.

The team said it’s possible to have a healthy Bengal tiger population if it includes both white and orange tigers.

The white tigers seen in the wild occurred naturally, but the ones in captivity are said to have originated from a single white tiger and inbred ever since.

“This inbreeding has caused many genetic problems with tigers such as cleft palates, scoliosis of the spine, mental impairments, and crossed eyes. Many of the cubs that are born either in zoos or by breeders have to be ‘disposed’ of because they are malformed at birth,” according to the Sanctuary.