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New Delhi Tiger: Another Innocent Killer

Punishing a tiger for being a tiger is ludicrous. So far, we have not heard of any plans to kill the tiger at the New Delhi zoo.

By Vicki Croke

A 20-year-old man, identified by police as Maqsood Khan, either jumped or fell into an enclosure in a New Delhi zoo yesterday and was killed by a white tiger.

new delhi tiger attack

Photo: Delhi Police/AFP

The horrifying incident was captured in still photos and videos by the cellphones of several witnesses. Some of those images have gone viral.

Apparently, the man dropped down into a dry moat surrounding the tiger exhibit. According to the Times of India:

The majestic six-foot, seven-year-old tiger, named Vijay, which was some distance away, saw the man in the concrete moat, that was covered with dry leaves, and bounded up to him.

Zoo-goers, apparently, began to throw sticks and rocks down at the tiger.

According to Ellen Barry and Nida Najar, writing for the New York Times:

Anil Kumar, a police spokesman, said Mr. Khan was in the enclosure at the National Zoological Park for 10 minutes before he was killed. Photographs showed Mr. Khan several feet from the tiger, his hands folded as if in prayer.


Bystanders with cellphones took images of Mr. Khan cowering in the moat, the tiger pawing at him and later seizing him by the neck and lashing his body back and forth, finally settling in a grassy corner with its prey.

The images—of a thin man crouched down, face-to-face with a massive tiger—are arresting. They are like a dream from our primitive past. The thought of being overpowered and eaten by a huge predator is as primal as it gets.

I’ve written about incidents like this one over the years, and usually there are questions raised about euthanizing the animal. One online source wrote:

“Zoo officials did not say what would happen to the tiger that attacked the boy… although … many people believe the animal should be put down.”

white tiger new delhi zoo

A white tiger at the New Delhi zoo. AP photo/Saurabh Das.

Punishing a tiger for being a tiger is ludicrous. So far, we have not heard of any plans to kill the tiger. But even zoos that would never consider such an action are often enough questioned about it.

After a young keeper named Sarah McClay was killed in a UK zoo by a tiger in 2013, her mother spoke to The Independent of London about calls to kill the tiger. Mrs McClay said:

“That is absolutely 100 per cent not what Sarah would not have wanted. She would not have blamed the tiger for anything [that] had happened.”

In 1994, I wrote for The Boston Globe about a keeper at the Miami Zoo who was mauled by a white tiger named Lucknow. What shocked people at the time was that the animal did not eat the zookeeper. Lucknow wasn’t hungry, but he was fast and powerful:

Tigers—yes, even those lie-about zoo tigers—do not fool around. A tiger tends to attack from behind with the force of perhaps 30 men, quickly breaking the neck of its victim. Rather than snapping the neck, however, a new study, from John Seidensticker at the National Zoo in Washington has discovered that with prey smaller than a buffalo, these cats tend to sink their canines into the animal’s (or human’s) neck, crushing the vertebrae.

Attacks in zoos can carry surprises. I was haunted by a detail from a 1988 killing at the Houston Zoo I wrote about in my book “The Modern Ark.” In that case, a 450-pound Siberian/Bengal mix named Miguel pulled a zookeeper named Ricardo Tovar through a small, reinforced glass window with such force that the man’s ribs were broken and some clothes and equipment were ripped away in the process. The cat killed Tovar, but shortly afterward, was observed pulling the man by the head, in what looked like a tender movement, “like a mother cat carrying a kitten.” The striking assertion that the tiger had been so gentle in that moment was confirmed later by the coroner, who said there were no marks left on Tovar’s head from the cat’s grip.

In the case of the Houston attack, a zoo emergency call went out as soon as the broken glass was discovered by another zookeeper. But in New Delhi, the speed of the zoo’s response is being questioned. The New York Times reports:

Zoos in India are regulated by a federal agency, the Central Zoo Authority, but are typically understaffed and overcrowded, said Bittu Sahgal, the editor of the wildlife and conservation magazine Sanctuary Asia. He said that officials often failed to register animal births or deaths publicly, and that supervision was scattershot.


Under existing regulations, Mr. Sahgal said, an episode such as Tuesday’s should have set off a fast-moving emergency plan.


“If someone walked inside, or fell inside, there should have been tranquilizer guns, there should have been rifles, and it should have been three or four minutes,” he said. “The boy’s life should have been saved.”

At least one British newspaper mistakenly referred to white tigers as an endangered species. All tigers are endangered, but white tigers are not a separate species. In fact, the poor animals are now basically manufactured by people. Tigers with blue coats and white eyes have occasionally appeared in the wild—the combination is the result of recessive genes meeting up. But in captivity, human beings deliberately inbreed these animals—mating close relatives—to produce the unusually colored cats who will draw a crowd. All that inbreeding results in unhealthy cats with genetic problems. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums here in North America banned its member zoos from breeding white tigers in 2011. (Took them a long time to do it—many of us had been writing about the issue for at least 15 years before that.)

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15 Responses to “New Delhi Tiger: Another Innocent Killer”

  1. Karthik

    Killing the tiger is purely a stupid act. Fault was on the victim. Tiger – It’s a wild animal which would not show mercy.
    My opinion about the incident is that it was all natural and nowhere it is an offence.
    In case you feel like punishing, then go ahead n punish Administrators for not alloting security gaurd on watch

    • Waleed Maan

      there was an ample time available for zoo administration to make the tiger sleep, by shooting any drug injection at him. then why they didn,t .

  2. christine

    The report I read said this man did not ‘fall’ into the enclosure. But, rather that after taunting the tiger from a distance for some time and despite repeated warnings from zoo staff, he exerted great effort in undermining all of the barrier measures and entered the moat area. The report also said that it is routine procedure for zoo patrons to taunt, tease and throw objects at wild animals in the these facilities, so it sounds to me like it’s the people that need to change their behaviors, not the tigers. I am sorry that a human being died. But it does not sound like this animal is culpable for the death. Facilities need to be well-designed and well manned, but people need to show respect for wild animals, in zoos or elsewhere.

  3. David F

    Suicide by tiger would be a better way to look at the incident. Obviously the tiger holds no blame in the matter. The tiger wasn’t hunting on the streets of the local city killing at random. Some guy just decided that he wanted to feed himself to a tiger, may Darwin smile upon him. It’s only a loss if the tiger is held in any way responsible.

    On the other hand I also respect what Jim Corbett did during the early part of the 20th century hunting man eaters. That was however a completely different set of circumstances.

  4. rushikesh

    This is totally rubbish thing to give punishment to TIGER,
    Blame can give to administration becouse there is at least five minutes in there hand to save Boy , but becouse of there failure , today boys is not in world

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I am agree Mr. Rushikesh because tiger not do any mistake this was his nature this fault of administrator

  5. radhika

    The TIGER is not at fault at all. The one to be blamed is the ZOO authorities.

    Tiger being an “ANIMAL” still didn’t attack the boy right away. There was time, the boy could have been saved. It does not matter if he jumped or he fell, the point is, the boy could have been saved.


  6. Ayesha Singh-Bello

    It was not the Tiger’s fault
    While it’s definitely sad, that the young man lost his life…
    But his complete disregard of the rules of the zoo, caused him to do a foolhardy thing which caused his death
    The tiger did not go looking for him
    He went looking for the tiger
    The tiger only did what tigers do
    The tiger is innocent and to cut short his life because of the stupidity of the man’s action.. Well that’s unjust and wrong
    I hope they make the right decision

  7. anonymous

    I agree with all of you ….that the tiger is not to be blamed. It was foolish on the boys part to ignore the warnings of the zoo keepers. It is a terrible situations that the boy lost his life l, but the tiger did what he does if he was in the wild. Tigers are wild animals and cannot be tamed. I blame the zoo officials for not having an appropriate rescue plan, as the boy was there for a long time without being harmed or amused by the tiger where he could have been rescued. Sad situation, and it’s very upsetting to see how easily animals are blamed for the stupidity of humans

  8. Joseph Squires

    Although I do not believe the incident was the tiger’s fault, it is undeniable that the tiger does have the capability to kill humans. Even though this tragic event was a very rare occurrence, the possibility of another death should not be an issue for future visitors to worry over. If I were the owner of the Delhi Zoo, I would most likely remove the tiger from the zoo. Whether or not I would kill the tiger is undecided. However, I would never allow for such a catastrophic event like this to happen again.

  9. sage

    As almost everyone else said Its not fair for an animal to be punished for being a animal. As the tiger did not ask to be in that zoo. If anything its the boys and the zookeepers fault for not keeping in eye out.


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