A zookeeper has been mauled to death by a lion as he tried to feed the animal at a Japanese safari park.
Kenichi Kato, aged 53, was discovered unconscious and bleeding from the neck inside the lion’s cage at Tohoku Safari Park in the northern city of Nihonmatsu.
Despite emergency services rushing the injured zookeeper to a nearby hospital, Mr Kato was later pronounced dead.
An investigation has started into what happened, but a police spokesperson told AFP: “It is believed that he was feeding a lion.”
Cuts on Mr Kato’s neck showed he had been mauled by the lion, while CCTV footage, not shared publicly, apparently showed the lion pouncing on him.
The zoo’s vice president Norichika Kumakubo told reporters Mr Kato was attacked as he desperately tried to close the door between the cage and the workers’ passage.
It has been reported that he may have been luring the lion toward its food - but had forgotten to lock the door separating him from the animal.
Mr Kumakubo said: “The process is that we open the door and place the food. Once the food is placed, the door is to be closed and locked. He added that “the door was open at the time”.
The zoo has been closed for safety management measures to be improved, the park said.
Mr Kumakubo said: “We deeply apologise to Mr Kato and his family. We regard this extremely seriously. We will take measures to prevent similar accidents.”
There have been several incidents of lions attacking zookeepers around the world over the past few years.
Last year, in Jamaica, a worker had his finger bitten off by a lion in front of terrified visitors. And in 2020, a zookeeper was left in a critical condition after being attacked by two lions in Australia.