Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Singapore Zoo Tiger: It's painful, but we have peace at last

Wed, Nov 19, 2008
The New Paper

IT was painful to watch and it brought fresh tears.

But in watching the video of Malaysian Nordin Montong's last moments, his family has found peace and closure.

The 32-year-old cleaner was mauled to death in the Singapore Zoo's white tiger enclosure last Thursday.

His elder sister, Madam Nora Montong, 34, had repeatedly asked to see the video, which was taken by a group of teens who were at the viewing gallery when the attack took place.

The family wanted to see with their own eyes what had taken place on that fateful day.

Madam Nora could not believe that her brother had jumped into the enclosure on his own accord.

When interviewed over the phone from Kuching, Sarawak, on Friday, she had said: 'Maybe he got pushed? Maybe he was in a fight? We can't accept it.'

After much dilemma, we decided to show the clip only to family members, with the understanding that they could stop it at any time if they found the images too distressing.

Before the video was shown, Madam Nora, who sells food for a living, said in Malay: 'Of course we want to know what happened. So far, we've only heard the accounts of others.

'Although there have been photos in the papers, we still don't know the full picture.

'All sorts of possibilities and speculations have gone through our minds. We want to see it with our own eyes to satisfy ourselves.'

In the end, Madam Nora and her two younger sisters, Aida, 28, and Norazeana, 23, watched the whole clip, which lasts almost four minutes, not once, but twice in Madam Aida's home.

When Madam Aida, an assistant welfare officer, saw the tiger striking Mr Nordin, she cringed and said repeatedly in Malay: 'Oh God!'

She then broke down in tears, putting her hand to her mouth. Miss Norazeana also started crying.

Shrank from screen

When the attack became more intense, the two sisters were clearly shocked. Their upper bodies shrank away from the screen even as their eyes were glued to what was unfolding.

Only Madam Nora remained cool, motioning her sisters to stay calm while she leaned forward to hear what Mr Nordin was saying.

She observed: 'He was afraid. He asked for help. He was in pain.'

When the clip was over, she asked to see it again, with the volume turned to maximum.

The sisters then saw the beginning of the clip for the third time, pausing and analysing each frame until the part where the tiger struck Mr Nordin down.

They all remarked that he was not himself in the way that he had aggressively approached the tigers with his arms raised and outstretched.

Madam Aida said: 'He has never acted like that. It's so strange. He seemed unaware of himself, like he was under a spell or possessed.'

They could not take seeing the rest of the clip for the third time.

It was only when reflecting on what she had seen that Madam Nora started crying.

With tears streaming down her face, she said: 'As a sister, what gives me peace is that he was praising God with his last breath. That's most important for us.'

They no longer have niggling doubts about him being pushed into the enclosure.

Miss Norazeana, who graduated recently, said: 'We accept what happened. We can't blame anyone.'

At the same time, they firmly rule out the possibility of suicide.

Madam Aida said: 'There are easier ways to die, he didn't have to go into the enclosure.'

Madam Nora agreed: 'He was struggling and shouting for help. If he wanted to die, he would have just surrendered himself to the tigers.'

Do they wonder why Mr Nordin was behaving so strangely when he entered the enclosure?

Madam Nora said: 'I've heard of hauntings at the zoo. Of course, we don't want to believe everything we hear.

'Suffice to say, this is his fate. We each have to die in our own way. Only God knows how it's going to be.'

The sisters do not plan to tell their parents about what they had seen until after the hundred days of mourning.

Madam Nora said: 'They think it was an accident, so we will let them carry on thinking that.

'They are both not that healthy and my mother, especially, is very distraught because Nordin was her favourite child. I don't want to add to their grief.'

The sisters are glad that they saw the video.

Madam Aida said: 'Before this, there were so many different stories, we didn't know what to believe. Now that we've seen and heard for ourselves, we can accept his death.

'No matter what other people say, we know the truth.'

It's painful, but we have peace at last
AsiaOne, Singapore