Sunday, November 16, 2008

Singapore Zoo: 'I thought it was a show' , tiger attack

Tourist witnesses horrifying incident together with other shocked visitors

By Esther Tan

'People were throwing things in to get (the tigers) away from the man. But it didn't work.'
Mr W. R. de Boer who managed to take pictures of the incident

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.