The zookeeper, named as Martin H., was doing a routine feed of the Münster zoo tigers at around 4pm. But this time, he forgot to properly lock the door keeping them secure in their indoor enclosure, while he laid food in the outside area of the compound.
Rasputin, a Siberian tiger, managed to sneak back into his outdoor area without the 56-year-old keeper noticing. He sprung on him from behind and bit through his neck. The zookeeper died instantly, the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung reported.
Police were called at 4.24pm and the fire service a minute later.
Onlookers watched the attack, and tried to raise the alarm. But help did not come in time. “An encounter like that with a tiger isn't something that can be survived,” zoo chief Jörg Adler said in a press conference on Thursday evening.
“There were witnesses, which means we do a reconstruction of the keeper's death,” Adler said, explaining that Martin H. was a very experienced keeper.
“We can install only so much technology and so many alarms – when it comes down to it it's the keeper who decides,” Adler continued, before adding that he was asking himself what he, as the director, could have done differently.
He said: “It is a tragedy which is hard to comprehend. I can not describe it.”
Dieter Knaack, 55, spokesman for Münster fire service said: “He [Rasputin] sprang on his back as fast as lightning from behind and killed him with a bite on his neck. The zookeeper had no chance. He died immediately," the Bild newspaper reported.
Rasputin was born in Leipzig and has been in Münster zoo since 2005. He will not be killed following the attack, the zoo has decided.
Investigators said that the most likely reason behind his death was basic human error. A similar attack happened in the nearby city of Cologne two years ago. A keeper was attacked by a Siberian tiger after forgetting to shut the door and was killed.
This second attack has provoked complaints from animal activists. Tigers are “incredible challenging to keep in captivity and potentially extremely dangerous not only for keepers but also for visitors,” animal rights group Vier Pfoten said after the incident, the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung reported.