A 28-year-old man allegedly jumped into the lion enclosure and came face to face with its 10-year-old occupant Thursday afternoon, sending National Zoological Park (NZP) officials and visitors into panic. Following a dramatic 20-minute operation by at least 30 NZP officials, the man was rescued.
In a similar incident last month, a 30 year-old-man fell into the same lion enclosure. He did not come face to face with the lion as he fell into the moat, and was pulled out by the guard.
A minute-long video of Thursday’s incident shot by a zoo visitor shows the man standing inches away from the lion, called Sundaram, and sitting on a rock as he tries to talk to it. Onlookers can be heard shouting at him to return even as he lies down dangerously close to the animal. Seconds later, the lion pushes him; he stands up and gets pushed towards a tree.
“The incident took place around 12.25 pm when the man jumped into the Indian male lion’s enclosure. The zoo’s Rapid Response Team rushed to the spot along with zoo director Dr Renu Singh. Within 15 minutes, he was rescued,” said Dr Vikash Kumar Jayaswal, assistant veterinary officer, NZP.
DCP (South East) Chinmoy Biswal said the man was appeared to be “mentally disturbed” and “depressed”. “While he was not injured, he was examined at AIIMS Trauma Centre and referred to IHBAS. He has been admitted there,” he said.
Forest Ranger Saurabh Vashishth, who jumped into the enclosure along with a team of 10, said the man was told repeatedly to walk back and climb the ladder that was thrown inside but he refused.
“When I said that I will come in, he said, ‘tu mat aa, main isse sambhaal lunga’. We then decided to distract Sundaram and his caretaker started calling its name. Since the lion is zoo-born and knows its caretaker very well, it responded and started moving away from the man. Unfortunately, he started following Sundaram,” said Vashishth.
He said the lion was given a mild tranquiliser shot by the veterinary officer. Once the tranquiliser kicked in, Vashishth and others jumped into the enclosure. “The man didn’t want to get out and jumped in the moat instead. Officials then had to jump into the moat and bring him out,” said zoo curator Riaz Khan.
A zoo official said before the incident, the guard outside the enclosure had found the man suspicious and asked him to stand at a distance. “There was one guard outside Sundaram’s enclosure. After he warned the man, he moved on to other visitors. Minutes later, the man jumped in,” said the official.
On security provisions of the lion enclosure, the official said: “There is a chest-high stand-up barrier, followed by a prickly plantation and another chest-high brick wall. Then there is a wet moat, which the lion cannot cross because it doesn’t swim. The man crossed all these barricades.”
The man, who hails from Bihar, has been living with his brother in North East Delhi for a year. “During questioning, he said he is unemployed and troubled, and came to the zoo alone. His brother has been informed about the incident,” said Biswal.
Sundaram was born at the Delhi zoo on May 19, 2009, and occupies the enclosure with a female lion called Akila, who is 13-years-old and paralysed from its hind legs. In another enclosure, there is another pair of lions called Hema and Aman. A zoo official said, “We are planning to mate Hema and Sundaram soon.”