A lion is seen inside an enclosure at NAMA Zoo in Gaza June 1, 2023.
File image used for illustrative purposes Image Credit: REUTERS

TOKYO: A zookeeper at a Japanese safari park died after a lion apparently attacked him as he tried to bring the animal to its cage, police said Friday.

Kenichi Kato, a 53-year-old worker at Tohoku Safari Park in the Fukushima region, was found bleeding from his neck and unconscious inside the lion's cage Thursday afternoon, a local police spokesman told AFP.

"It is believed that he was feeding a lion," the spokesman, who declined to be named, said.

A senior park official earlier said Kato was trying to lure a lion to a cage by using food, but did not lock a door that should have separated him from the big cat.

"The process is that we open the door, and place the food. Once the food is placed, the door is to be closed and locked," Norichika Kumakubo, vice-president of the park, told local reporters Thursday evening.

But "the door was open at the time", he said.

Kato was a veteran staff member who worked with carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears, local media said.

"We deeply apologise to Mr. Kato and his family," Kumakubo said.

"We regard this extremely seriously. We will take measures to prevent similar accidents."

The facility will remain closed until it can implement effective prevention measures, Kumakubo said.