Cleaner killed by tigers at Singapore Zoo

Khushwant Singh, Straits Times 14 Nov 08;

A CLEANER at the Singapore Zoo who jumped into the white tiger enclosure yesterday was killed by the animals as a horrified crowd looked on helplessly.

Malaysian Nordin Montong, 32, was set upon by two of the three big cats in the enclosure at around noon.

According to eyewitnesses, Mr Nordin, who was seen shouting and flinging items about shortly before the incident, vaulted a low wall and landed in a moat in the enclosure, four metres below.

Carrying a yellow pail and a broom, he then crossed the 1.75m-deep moat, walked up to a rocky ledge near where the animals were and began agitating them by swinging the broom.

As two of the tigers approached him, he covered his head with the pail, lay down on the ground, and curled himself into a foetal position, two eyewitnesses, an Australian couple, told police. Their identities were withheld pending investigations.

In a flash, two of the extremely rare white tigers were on him. One took a swipe at him with its paw - which is about the size of a softball glove - and he began screaming in pain, said another eyewitness, Dutch tourist W. R. de Boer.

He said many in the crowd of 30 or so onlookers at the enclosure initially thought the intrusion was part of a show.

But when Mr Nordin began screaming, they reacted with horror.

'Some were screaming: 'Go away' to the tigers and others were shouting to scare the tigers,' he said.

The cries alerted zoo staff, and the alarm was raised.

About 20 keepers arrived within minutes. Some tried to prevent the attack from continuing by throwing brooms and dustbin covers, while the rest ushered the shocked onlookers away.

Also deployed were two zookeepers armed with rifles and live ammunition, but these were not used, said the zoo's assistant director of zoology, Mr Biswajit Guha.

Despite the efforts of the keepers, one tiger continued attacking Mr Nordin for several minutes, the zoo said in a statement yesterday.

It only relented after a door to the tigers' feeding area was opened. The animals retreated to it, leaving the cleaner motionless on the ground.

Once the tigers were in the feeding area, the door separating it from the rest of the enclosure was closed, and keepers were able to reach the cleaner.

It was too late, however. Mr Nordin, who hails from Sarawak, had been bitten on the neck and suffered a fractured skull. He died before police arrived.

His colleagues later told zoo staff that the contract worker, who had been working at the zoo for about 41/2 months, had been behaving strangely minutes before the incident.

He had thrown his cutters and meal coupons about before telling them in Malay: 'Goodbye, you won't be seeing me again.'

He then rode off on his bicycle.

The Australian tourists also said they saw him shouting and throwing some things as he walked by the crocodile exhibit, just 10 minutes from the tiger enclosure.

Yesterday's incident was the first time a person had been killed by an animal at the zoo since it opened in 1973.

Before this, the most serious incident occurred in 2001, when Chawang, a bull elephant, gored his keeper of 18 years, Mr Gopal Krishnan.

The keeper suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung, and was in hospital for close to two months before he eventually recovered.

The zoo, which had to stop the tram ride and prevent visitors from entering during the incident, said yesterday that it would close the white tiger exhibit temporarily as a precautionary measure. It did not say how long the closure would last.

It said the tigers, which are nine years old and were brought in from Sumatra in 2001, would not be put down as they had acted naturally.

White tiger exhibit safe for visitors: Zoo

THE white tigers' enclosure is safe for visitors as long as they stand outside it, the Singapore Zoo said yesterday.

It has closed the exhibit for the moment, but this is to facilitate investigations into the incident rather than for safety reasons, it said.

A moat separates the tigers from the visitors' bridge by 8.5m at the nearest point, and by 10m at the furthest.

The centre of the moat, its deepest portion, is 1.75m deep, while water on either side comes up to 1.5m. The fences on the sides of the enclosure are 5.8m high, and those at the back, 4.7m high.

Another 1.5m-high hot-wire fence stands in front of the 4.7m fence as an additional precaution.

These measurements 'conform to international safety guidelines imposed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums', said Mr Biswajit Guha, the zoo's assistant director of zoology.

He pointed out that regular safety audits are held, with the last done on Sept 11. Only minor defects, such as rust on the fences and overgrown vegetation, were found, and rectified.

'In view of the permanent safety features, there is no risk to any visitor or zoo staff at any time,' he added.


Visitors at first thought tiger attack was a show
Tourist witnesses horrifying incident together with other shocked visitors
Esther Tan, Straits Times 14 Nov 08;

FOR Dutchman W. R. de Boer, paying a visit to the Singapore Zoo yesterday was meant to be a relaxing book-end to a business trip.

Instead, the 40-year-old witnessed one of the most horrifying things he has ever seen.

The software consultant, who arrived in Singapore two weeks ago, was among about 30 others who saw zoo cleaner Nordin Montong, 32, mauled to death by two white tigers yesterday afternoon.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Mr de Boer said he was concentrating on taking pictures of the tigers, and only realised something was amiss when he heard others screaming.

'I turned and saw a man lying on the ground with a bucket over his head. He yelled and the tigers came towards him,' he recalled. 'I thought it was a show at first. But I knew it wasn't when the claws came out and there was blood.'

Mr de Boer said he saw one of the tigers hit the man with its paw and then attacked him.

'I couldn't see clearly whether the tiger attacked his back or his neck because he still had the bucket on his head,' he said.

By then, visitors standing around the enclosure were screaming for the tigers to go away. One of them even threw an umbrella in to distract the tigers, he noted. But it did not work.

'I was afraid for the man,' he said.

The screams of the onlookers alerted zookeepers, and they arrived shortly after.

From the viewing area, the keepers tried to use a pole to prod the tigers and distract them from Mr Nordin, but it was too short, and soon, one of the tigers pounced on the cleaner.

Mr de Boer also saw a keeper armed with a rifle, but no shots were fired. Despite the horror unfolding before him, he kept clicking away with his camera. He later provided The Straits Times with pictures of the attack. 'I don't know why I (took the photos). I wasn't thinking,' he said.

He took just a few pictures before keepers ushered him away and cordoned off the enclosure.

Yesterday, the zoo declined media requests to speak to the keepers involved in the incident.

The zoo's director of sales and marketing Isabel Cheng said that keepers involved in the incident were not in a position to speak to the media as they were traumatised by what had happened. They were receiving counselling from a psychologist.

Two other visitors to the zoo, an Australian couple, gave a similar account of what happened, said the zoo yesterday. The couple, whose identities were withheld by police, had video footage of the attack taken from them by police.

According to the zoo, they told police that they said they had earlier seen Mr Nordin shouting and throwing things as he walked by the crocodile enclosure, a short distance from the tiger enclosure.

Minutes later, as they arrived to view the white tigers, they heard a splash and looked down to see the Malaysian contract worker in the moat.

They told police it appeared that Mr Nordin had deliberately provoked the animals.

Contacted again last night, Mr de Boer, who leaves Singapore tomorrow, said he was overwhelmed by the day's events. 'It's not nice to see something like this on a holiday,' he said.

In an emergency...
NOBODY is allowed in the white tigers' enclosure when the big cats are in it, the Singapore Zoo said yesterday.

When their dens need cleaning, it is done only after the beasts are confined in an adjoining den. If someone is attacked, staff members raise the alarm over their walkie-talkies. Field staff head for the site with emergency equipment, including fire extinguishers, extendable poles, cymbals and clay balls to distract the animals. Licensed shooters go to the zoo's armoury to collect a double-barrelled shotgun and a .375 rifle - 'shoot-to-kill weapons in case a life is in danger', said the zoo's assistant director of zoology Biswajit Guha. Yesterday, it took five minutes to activate the shooters. By the time they arrived, the tigers were already confined in their dens, so there was no need to shoot them, said Mr Guha.


White tigers very rare
WHITE tigers belong to the Bengal tiger subspecies native to the forests and grasslands in South Asia.

Bengal tigers make up about 60per cent of the world's wild tiger population, now estimated to stand at only 4,000 cats.

Only one in every 10,000 tigers has white instead of orange coat. There are about 200 white tigers in captivity. The Bengal white tiger is not an albino. It has dark stripes and blue eyes; albino tigers have completely white coats and pink eyes.

White tigers, which can now be seen only in captivity, can grow to more than 3m from nose to tail tip, and weigh more than 250kg. This big cat has 30 teeth, the longest ones at 7.5cm, with which it hunts wild boar, cattle and even smaller rhinoceroses. It can reportedly eat 18kg of meat at one go.

The zoo feeds its three nine-year-old white tigers beef, pork, mutton and chicken. Each tiger gets 3kg to 5kg of meat tossed to it daily, and another 7kg of meat thrice weekly in the den.


‘Goodbye, I won’t be seeing you again’
Zul Othman, Today Online 14 Nov 08;

HE HAD seemed disturbed at lunchtime, people later said: Tearing up food coupons, muttering agitatedly to himself.

Then Mr Nordin Montong turned to his co-worker at the Singapore Zoo and said, in Malay: “Goodbye, I won’t be seeing you again.”

With that, the 32-year-old contract worker rode away on his bike. Moments later, at about 12.15pm, he climbed over the 1.2-metre high railing of the white tiger exhibit, walked along the ledge — and jumped into the 10-metre wide moat.

He waded ashore and climbed onto the rocks, waving a pail and broom and “taunting” the animals, according to a horrified Australian couple. That’s when the three big cats, each weighing over 100kg, attacked.

As he curled into a foetal position, and visitors screamed, the tigers grabbed him by the neck and dragged him to the back of the exhibit.

A nearby staff sounded the alarm over the walkie-talkie system, and some 20 keepers converged, some ushering visitors away while others distracted the tigers and lured them into their dens.

Once the animals were confined, four of the zoo’s vets rushed in and gave Mr Nordin first aid. But by the time a Singapore Civil Defence Force ambulance arrived at 12.34pm, it was too late – Mr Nordin was pronounced dead 10 minutes later, with a fractured skull and bite wounds to the throat.

The Malaysian had been working at the zoo’s chimpanzee exhibit since June.

According to Ms Isabel Cheng, director of sales and marketing at the Singapore Zoo, this is the first such incident in the park’s 35-year history. “Our exhibits are designed to be safe but if someone wants to deliberately get in, they will find a way,” she said.

Mr Biswajit Guha, the assistant director of zoology, said: “At no time was any visitor or staff exposed to any danger.” The zoo has begun investigations and, to facilitate this, has “temporarily closed the white tiger exhibit to visitors”.

Zoo staff declined to be interviewed, but several visitors said Mr Nordin’s erratic behaviour had caught their eye.

Some told authorities he was shouting and throwing things around outside the exhibit.

One British tourist told TODAY he saw Mr Nordin try to climb into the enclosure, “which didn’t seem like an easy thing to do seeing it had high fences followed by a deep trench”.

Zoo authorities say the enclosure measurements conform to international safety guidelines. A moat between 8.5m and 10m wide, and up to 1.75m deep, surrounds the white tiger exhibit. Fences on the left and right wings stand 5.8m high, inclusive of the moat wall. The exhibit was last audited for safety on Sept 11.

Following security protocols, zoo operations were closed for half an hour, and resumed when it was found the incident was contained.

A police spokesperson said the case has been classified as that of “unnatural death” and investigations are on going. Mr Nordin’s family has been notified, and the zoo has offered them its condolences and assistance.

Malaysian worker dies after being attacked by white tigers at zoo
Satish Cheney, Channel NewsAsia 13 Nov 08;

SINGAPORE: A Malaysian contract worker died after being attacked by three white tigers at the Singapore Zoo on Thursday.

The worker has been identified as Nordin Bin Montong. Zoo officials said the 32-year-old had jumped into a moat at the white tiger enclave and was subsequently mauled to death by the white tigers.

Police said they received a report at 12.30pm about a man sustaining neck injuries at the zoo. Paramedics were called to the scene and Nordin was pronounced dead at 12.45pm.

Biswajit Guha, assistant director, Singapore Zoo, said: "Prior to the incident, the zookeepers had actually noticed that the contract worker was behaving erratically.

"He was throwing things around and as he was walking out of the zoo, he passed comments like 'Goodbye, you won't see me again'. He later cycled back and 5 minutes later, the alarm went off."

Nordin had jumped off the ledge into the water and once he was inside the enclave, the three white tigers mauled him for five to ten minutes, while 20 zookeepers tried desperately to save him by distracting the animals.

They were too late, as were the two licensed rifle shooters who were called to the scene.

As a precautionary measure, the white tiger exhibit has been temporarily closed and the 9-year-old tigers, which came from Indonesia, are in confinement for now.

Zoo officials said once the police finish their investigations, they would examine if there is a need to further enhance safety measures.

They added that it is natural for tigers to pounce on any prey and there is no reason to sedate the animals.

In a statement, the Singapore Zoo said the white tiger enclosure measurements conform to international safety guidelines imposed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Regular animal safety audits are also conducted every month and there is no risk to any visitor or staff at any time.
- CNA/yb/so

The New Paper 15 Nov 08;

They had seen a man in the enclosure belonging to three white tigers. It's just an animal act, thought Nizam Zainal and his six friends.

Who in their right mind would jump into an enclosure with three wild tigers, armed with nothing but a pail and a broomstick?

So Nizam continued filming at the White Tiger exhibit with his video camera.

His group of friends were all prepared for a relaxing day at the zoo, despite the cold, drizzly weather.

All of them had just completed their O-level examinations and had been looking forward to this break.

It was a slow day at the zoo. Small pockets of tourists were strolling around. It was a weekday. And the weather was dreary.


The 16-year-old swung his video camera around and was surprised to see Mr Nordin Montong, 32, wading in the water.

'I turned and saw a man in the water, walking slowly with both his arms outstretched, with a pail and a broom in each hand.

'The man looked very calm and was shouting at the tigers, trying to attract their attention.'

It must be a zoo-keeper who was familiar with the tiger exhibit, he thought, still calm.

Tiger approaches

One of the tigers, clearly excited by the splash, sprinted towards the water to investigate the disturbance.

Mr Nordin coolly emerged from the water and walked up a stone ledge, coming face-to-face with the still calm but curious and waiting tiger.

Nizam thought for a moment that the tiger was familiar with Mr Nordin and had gone to welcomehim.


But the tiger suddenly swiped at Mr Nordin, to the horror of the 20-strong gawking, frightened crowd at the enclosure.

The blows brought Mr Nordin to his knees.

The huge cat then sank its teeth into the back of Mr Nordin's neck and tossed him around repeatedly like a ragdoll.

Then the second tiger crawled up the ledge.

Both tigers started to sniff at and circle Mr Nordin.

Nizam's friend, Fadzil Ramlee, also 16, shouted repeatedly to Mr Nordin: 'Dude, get into the water!'

Fadzil told The New Paper later. 'When he was being attacked, some people started screaming and shouting at him to get into the water.

'We also shouted at the tigers to distract them. One tourist threw his umbrella at the tigers but missed.'

His hands trembling, Fadzil continued shooting with his video camera, somewhat mesmerised by the vicious attack unfolding before his eyes.

Mr Nordin was then curled up on the stone ledge. He used the pail to cover his head.

The two tigers stood over him. Then they circled him, sniffed him - and began swiping at him repeatedly with their huge paws.

The tigers seemed distracted by the crowd's shouts and whistles, but they never left Mr Nordin's side.

This lasted a good two minutes.

The crowd swelled to more than 30 people, including some of the zoo's staff. One zookeeper tried to distract the tigers by using a long stick to hit the water.

Nizam said he didn't see any zoo staff armed with rifles.

Just when the crowd thought the tigers were distracted enough for Mr Nordin to be safe, one tiger suddenly grabbed him by the back of his neck and dragged him further into the enclosure.

The crowd screamed even louder at the two tigers, both in shock and horror, and in a desperate bid to distract the tigers.

The two tigers looked away, momentarily distracted by the crowd. Mr Nordin stood up but was quickly brought down again by the tigers.

One tiger started to bite Mr Nordin on his back repeatedly. The crowd cringed in horror.

Blood could be seen streaming from the wounds on his back. The tiger's mouth was also bloody. Mr Nordin was struggling and thrashing his legs about.

Then he became still.

That was Nizam's last glimpse of Mr Nordin.

Just before the four-minute clip ended, a third tiger emerge from the bushes.

Nizam and his friends were by then literally trembling. Nizam could no longer hold the camera steady.

They were ushered quickly out of the enclosure by the zoo-keepers, who then cordoned off the area.

The group remained quiet after that, traumatised by what they saw and captured on video.

Said Nizam: 'I didn't expect to shoot something so terrifying. It was so unreal.'

He said that his hand was shaking while he was shooting the entire scene, but for some reason, he couldn't put down the camera.

He said: 'It was emotional but I just couldn't put down the camera.'

The $1,100 video camera belongs to his father.

He said that he saw one girl crying, and holding on to her boyfriend while being led out of the enclosure.

The group continued their tour of the zoo, and returned to the enclosure about three hours later.

It was then that they learnt that the man had died from his injuries.

Said Fadzil: 'All of us thought that maybe the man was rescued and had only slight injuries.

'It's a terrible way to die.'

'Goodbye, I won't be seeing you again'
The New Paper 15 Nov 08;

BEFORE the four minutes of terror that were captured on video by Nizam Zainal, the horror began with what seemed like strange, agitated behaviour.

Contract cleaner Nordin Montong, 32, was seen fumbling through cards in a wallet and then throwing the contents into a crocodile enclosure.

An Australian couple saw him do this at the zoo's Treetops Trail near the main entrance. He then cycled away.

Zookeepers had also seen Mr Nordin near a building where workers have their meals. The area is not accessible to the public.

They saw him throw his food coupons and plant cutter to the ground, zoo officials said.

'Goodbye, I won't be seeing you again,' he announced to the zookeepers in Malay, before cycling out of the zoo through a back exit.

But minutes later, Mr Nordin was seen cycling back in through the main entrance.

Then there was a commotion at the white tiger exhibit...

A keeper nearby was alerted and he sent out the chilling message over the zoo's walkie-talkie system at 12.15pm: Someone was in the white tiger enclosure.

Zookeepers who were having their lunch sprung into action.

About 20 of them ran to the white tiger viewing gallery where horrified visitors were watching Mr Nordin approach the three tigers.

The three tiger keepers spread themselves out.

One of them joined the other keepers in trying to distract the tigers from Mr Nordin by shouting and throwing items like brooms and bin lids.

Meanwhile, the other two tiger keepers ran to the back of the exhibit to try to lure the tigers - a male and two females - back into their dens.

Veterinarians also rushed over to see how they could help the injured man, while the civil defence force and police were alerted.

Two licensed shooters, armed with rifles containing live rounds, arrived five minutes after the alarm was raised.

But the tigers were confined in their dens by the time the shooters got there.

The tigers had dragged Mr Nordin to the back of the enclosure and let go of him inside the passageway leading to the dens.

Four veterinarians then entered the passageway and administered first aid to Mr Nordin.

To get into the enclosure, Mr Nordin had jumped over a railing and fallen into the deep moat.

Before Mr Nordin jumped, someone had seen him climb onto and walk along the ledge at the viewing gallery, said Mr Biswajit Guha, the zoo's assistant director of zoology.

He told reporters that the tiger keepers had to lure the tigers into the den as no one is allowed to have direct contact with the beasts.

They are led into the den via a series of guillotine and sliding doors.

Mr Nordin was barely alive when he was pulled out.

Said Mr Guha: 'His heart was still beating but it was very weak. By the time the ambulance arrived, the vets were not able to resuscitate him.'

The ambulance arrived at 12.45pm, followed by the police at 1pm.

Mr Nordin had multiple bite wounds to his neck, and his skull was fractured.

'His family has been notified. Our heartfelt condolences are with Nordin's family and we will provide whatever assistance they need during this difficult period,' said Mr Guha.

He said it would have taken quite an effort to jump into the moat as there is a 1.5m-high wooden railing, followed by a 1m-wide planter bed with shrubs in front of the railing.

Why weren't the tigers shot?

Mr Guha said a tranquiliser dart was not used because the tiger was beside the worker.

'If darted, the tiger may react adversely to the sudden impact and redirect it to the worker. Tranquilisers are not instantaneous and will take time to react,' he added.

Mr Nordin, who is from Sarawak, Malaysia, was a cleaner with cleaning contractor Sun City Maintenance.

He started work in June and was tasked to clean the chimpanzee enclosure, about 1km away from the white tiger exhibit.

The two exhibits are at almost opposite ends of the zoo, said Mr Guha.

The white tiger enclosure was closed off after the incident. It will be closed for the next few days for a thorough check and to allow the tigers to settle down.

'We will continue to observe for any sign of stress in the animals and they will continue to be in our collection,' Mr Guha said.

The 9-year-old white tigers, named Omar, Jippie and Winnie, arrived at the Singapore Zoo from Indonesia in 2001.

As a safety precaution, the zoo will be checking to see if there are any areas that are easily breached, he added.

He said there was no risk to any visitor or zoo staff at any time.

A Sun City Maintenance spokesman said its operations manager had often described Mr Nordin as 'very hardworking'.

The police are investigating.