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Delhi Zoo to install human cages in famous white tiger enclosure – in case people fall in again

Measure inspired by 2014 death when a young man became trapped after falling into tigers’ pit

Adam Withnall
Delhi
Friday 31 August 2018 14:13 BST
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White tiger kills student

It might sound like a stunt cooked up by animal rights activists, but Delhi zoo is planning to install cages for humans – and hopes that, if successful, the idea could be rolled out to wildlife centres across the world.

Rather than giving mankind a taste of its own medicine, though, the zoo authorities are trying to provide humans with a safe place to hide in the event that they fall into dangerous enclosures.

The first cages are set to be in place by the middle of September, and will eventually cover all four corners of the pit housing Delhi zoo’s star attraction – its family of white tigers.

The idea for the cages comes from a tragic incident in September 2014, when a young man was mauled to death by a tiger after he fell into the enclosure and became trapped.

Police have said the 22-year-old, Maqsood, was drunk at the time and jumped over a fence into the enclosure despite warnings from a guard.

A tranquilliser gun could not be accessed because it was locked away and the zoo’s doctor, who had the key, was not on the premises. Guards tried clapping and shouting to spook a male white tiger, Vijay, who approached the man, but could not scare him off.

In the 10-minute ordeal that followed, much of which was filmed and photographed by other zoo visitors and posted online, Maqsood was repeatedly mauled by the tiger and later succumbed to his injuries.

A police report has cleared the zoo of any negligence, but officials have nonetheless kept a range of different emergency items on standby near enclosures in case of future incidents. Government regulations stating only doctors can have access to tranquilliser drugs have not been reconsidered.

From ropes and ladders to firecrackers, none have felt like enough since the 2014 death, which made news headlines around the world, said Renu Singh, director of Delhi zoo.

“Ultimately, we settled on the idea of the human-sized cage,” she told the Times of India. “We have already commissioned the cages and the first one could be ready in the next 10 days.”

Ms Singh said the cages will have a simple lock mechanism so they can be accessed without training and in an emergency. “People will be able to easily go inside and securely lock themselves up,” she said, adding that the structures were “fairly sturdy”.

The 2014 death was not an isolated incident – wildlife experts said there were six occasions in the preceding eight years when visitors entered a tiger enclosure at a zoo in India. While some were attacked, none of the incidents were fatal, and as such did not receive the same coverage as Maqsood’s death.

There have been far fewer incidents involving the public in India since. But in 2017 alone there were three reported deaths of zookeepers working with tigers, in China, the UK and in Bengaluru (also called Bangalore), India. In the case of Rosa King’s death in Cambridgeshire, experts said the tiger struck so fast that even if it had been tranquillised, there would not have been time for the drug to take effect.

Ms Singh believes Delhi’s trial is the first of its kind in the world, and that the cages could supersede other safety measures. “Most zoological parks abroad keep tranquillisers or ladders on standby,” she said. “If successful, the same model can be adopted in other places.”

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