Auckland - Just a few months after a South African-born man had rescued a colleague from a tiger attack in a New Zealand game park, using only his bare hands and a fire extinguisher, he was killed by that same tiger.
The white Bengal tiger on Wednesday bit Dalu Mncube in the stomach and legs when he and a fellow employee went to clean the animal's cage.
Besides the colleague, about ten foreign tourists, including two young children, witnessed the incident, according to the Otago Daily Times. They subsequently received counselling.
Wouldn't let body go
The tiger was shot and killed after refusing to release Mncube's body.
"Despite the best efforts of the second keeper and a rapid response from other wildlife park staff, the tiger would not let the park worker go," police spokesperson Sarah Kennett said in a statement.
The animal - one of only 120 white tigers in the world - was killed, police inspector Paul Dimmery told National Radio. There was "nothing to indicate why it attacked - but the fact is they're wild animals," Dimmery added.
The park's manager, Glen Holland, who was not there at the time, said Mncube was an experienced keeper and "fantastic with the cats".
Stayed calm during rescue
In February, Mncube rescued another colleague from the animal's jaws.
According to a report in The New Zealand Herald, Abu, a 260kg tiger, sank his teeth into Demetri Price's knee. Mncube reportedly forced the animal's jaws apart with his fingers and repelled it with a fire extinguisher.
Shortly after that incident, Mncube told the newspaper: "I wasn't at all afraid. You stay calm and collected. If I had become scared and panicked we could have had two deaths. It happened in a flash. The next moment it was all over."
Wednesday's attack was the third within a year in the Zion Wildlife Gardens near Whangarei, north of Auckland.
Concerns about training
Another worker at the park, Craig Busch has been involved in a lawsuit with the park after the owner, his mother Patricia, dismissed him.
According to the Otago Daily Times, Mncube had just taken over from him as senior ranger in charge of the big cats.
It has been suggested that Busch's dismissal led to the problematic behaviour on the part of the animals, as Busch is no longer there to maintain standards.
Even before the most recent incident, New Zealand's agriculture ministry had apparently been considering culling 40 of the park's predators.
It seems there were concerns about the training of personnel and the possibility that someone may get hurt, as well as the conditions in which the animals were kept.
Mncube is survived by his girlfriend Sharon Arnott and a one-year-old daughter, Starskea.