Endangered Tiger Kills Keeper At Zoo As Co-Worker Looks On, Unable To Save His Life

One of two rare Sumatran tigers at a Polish zoo mauled a keeper Wednesday. He was killed instantly.

Now, the incident is under investigation and the zoo, located in southwestern Poland in Wroclaw, is doing what it can to help the family of the victim.

He has been identified as Ryszard Pakla, 58. He’d been working with animals for 20 years, and with predators for the last 15, Sky News reported. According to the Daily Mail, Pakla had been caring for the Sumatran tiger since it arrived in 2010.

Authorities believe the keeper was killed during a routine cleaning of the run, the Associated Press added. The incident happened early in the morning, just before a European Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, noted Radio Poland.

The tiger was supposed to be locked in a separate area when a keeper cleans its enclosure and cages, but authorities believe he didn’t lock the door properly. It was somehow able to escape and attack Pakla, and killed him “virtually instantly” as a co-worker watched.

Unable to do anything to save his friend, that co-worker escaped the scene and shut the gate before the tiger turned on him, the Mail added. After the attack, police were called and an ambulance crew arrived on scene.

Afterward, director Radosław Ratajszczak told the 700 people there for the meeting that a veteran keeper was killed, and then had a moment of silence.

“He was a very experienced, very balanced and a good worker. He performed this routine job that he had done thousands of times before. It is the saddest day in my life.”

The zoo remained open, but the enclosure where the man was mauled taped off. Officials don’t know what instigated the tiger to attack, but don’t blame the animal for the incident. What is under scrutiny: why the enclosure wasn’t secured in the first place. An inquiry has begun to answer that question.

The Sumatran tiger is a critically endangered species native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are only 500 left in the world, and Wroclaw has two of them.

Wroclaw has been the site of an animal attack before, though it appears Pakla is the first keeper to be killed. In 2003, a bear pulled a worker into its cage, where it bit off part of the person’s foot.

[Photo Courtesy Dan Kitwood / Getty Images]