At Bannerghatta zoological park, near Bangalore, India, keepers feed the white tigers around 5 p.m., after the last safari vehicle has turned off its engine and all the tourists are gone.
On Saturday night, the task of feeding the park’s white tiger cubs fell to a new employee media reports identified as Anjaneya, who had his caretaker job for just a week.
The tiger cubs pounced as the man collected discarded bones from their meal.
The one-and-a-half year old cubs – Vanya and Jhansi Rani – were resting inside with their mother, Soorya, at the same time the new hire was cleaning up.
One of the cubs swiped at the keeper and then bit him on the neck, according to the Times of India, then the second cub joined in.
Anjaneya’s screams attracted more tigers, dragging him back into the safari enclosure.
Zookeepers responding to the mauling were unable to get to Anjaneya because of the tigers, which appeared to be acting protectively over what they saw as their prey, officials said.
“Caretaker dies after being attacked by White Tigers in Bannerghatta
– Bangalore News (@Karnataka_News) October 7, 2017”
Anjaneya, who the Times said lived in Hakki Pikki colony, died a short time later of his wounds, sparking a police investigation and outcry from his family, who claim that the park had been negligent.
Their chief question: Why was one of the park’s newest employees tasked with one of its most dangerous jobs?
Compounding the concern, Anjaneya’s killing was the second tiger-related incident in as many months at the zoo.
Last month, staffers who manage the safari enclosures left the wrong gate open, leading “to a ferocious fight between Royal Bengal tigers and white tigers,” according to NDTV.
“It is basically a mishap,” forestry official C. Jayaram told the broadcaster, faulting “people who are lethargic” with the error. “While closing the gates there was some lack of coordination. They have entered into the same enclosure, there was a fight.”
One white tiger, a nine-year-old named Shreyas, died four days after the attack at the park that bills itself as a sanctuary for endangered lions and tigers.
The zoo that would become Bannerghatta National Park was carved out of the surrounding national forest in the 1970s to provide a place to preserve endangered species such as tigers and elephants.
It is also a tourist destination for people who live in Bangalore, one of India’s most populous cities, just a few miles away.
The zoo also serves as a rescue center for lions and tigers that have been saved from European circuses, according to its website.
In total, the park houses nearly 2,000 animals, including collections of Bengal tigers, leopards and lions.
Director Santosh Kumar said police are conducting an investigation into the keeper’s death, but he defended the zoo’s practices.
He said a senior staffer was around at the time: “In fact, the tigers chased him too. But he was lucky to get to a safe place. We’re conducting an inquiry.”
Kumar said it appears that Anjaneya didn’t operate the holding gates properly.
At 18 months old, the tiger cubs aren’t fully grown, but they are sizable. Tiger cubs mature quickly, according to Live Science, and begin learning to hunt when they are eight weeks old. In the wild, they set off on their own after two years.
Kumar said zoo rules only allow experienced staffers to work in the tiger enclosure.
Such incidents raise questions about individual facilities, but also about the dangers of caging apex predators.
In May, a British zookeeper was mauled after being trapped in the Hamerton Park Zoo’s tiger enclosure with at least one of the big cats.
The zoo called Rosa King’s death a “freak accident” involving a zookeeper who had been employed there for 14 years.
Horrified witnesses said they could see zookeepers sprinting to the edge of the tiger enclosure, throwing pieces of meat at the tigers as a distraction.
In 2016, 38-year-old zookeeper Stacey Konwiser was killed while preparing the “night house” at the Palm Beach Zoo. The house is where the animals are cleaned and fed, then boarded overnight.
And last summer at Beijing Safari World, a woman was injured and her mother killed after the younger woman got out of their car and was dragged off by a tiger.
The mother was attacked and killed by a second tiger.
The incidents illustrate that captive big cats are dangerous animals that can’t turn off their predatory instincts, experts say.
“These accidents happen, you know, on some kind of a recurring basis around the world,” Doug Cress, CEO of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told The Post after King’s death. “And it’s because you’re dealing with animals that, at their genetic core, are built differently than we might like them to be. They are designed to be wild animals.”
Tigers are dangerous even to people who’ve been dealing with them for years, said Susan Bass, director of public relations at Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for more than 80 tigers, lions, bobcats and cougars.
“They’re the ultimate predator, and they’re hard-wired to go after and eat meat. People are meat,” Bass told The Post in May. “And they’re bored silly in zoos. They’re supposed to be roaming hundreds of miles, so they’re constantly looking for ways to get out.”