Sunday, November 16, 2008

Singapore Zoo: 4 minutes of terror, the tiger

4 minutes of terror

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 welcome him.


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.'

This article was first published in The New Paper on November 14, 2008.