NZ zookeeper mauled to death by rare white tiger

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An animal keeper was mauled to death today by a rare white tiger at a wildlife park in New Zealand while visitors watched in horror, police said.

The keeper was attacked after he and a colleague entered the tiger's cage at Zion Wildlife Park on New Zealand's North Island in order to clean it, police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said.

The victim suffered serious injuries to his abdomen and lower legs and died shortly after the attack, before help could reach him.

"Despite the best efforts of the second keeper and a rapid response from other wildlife park staff, the tiger would not let the park worker go, and he died at the scene," Kennett said in a statement. "The tiger was destroyed by wildlife park staff."

Victim Support staff were called to the scene to help distressed park staff and visitors, including eight foreign tourists who witnessed the attack, Kennett told The Associated Press. Their nationalities were not known.

The park, located near the northern city of Whangarei, has 42 rare lions and tigers that are kept in large wire-cage enclosures that include trees and grassy areas.

In February, park employee Demetri Price required surgery after he was attacked by a white tiger. Scottish teenager Lisa Baxter was left scarred last year after she put her hands through a hole in the fence and was bitten by a white lion.

Police, Department of Labour and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials were investigating the incident.