Guwahati, Dec. 19: Jayprakash Bezbaruah wanted to get the best possible shot of the magnificent Royal Bengal tiger basking in the mellow afternoon sun inside the Assam State Zoo here.
He crossed the first barricade, came near the tigers enclosure and stretched his hands into the iron railing to click with his digital camera. What the 50-year-old did not see was another tiger, almost hidden in the shadows of the enclosure wall.
Bezbaurah did not get the chance to click. Govardana, the male tiger sitting directly beneath his outstretched arms, pounced on his left hand and caught in his razor-sharp teeth.
The other tiger, Divya, whom Bezbaruah had hoped to shoot with his camera, galvanised into action immediately and ran to attack the visitor. She, too, dug her teeth into his left hand while she mauled his face with her sharp claws.
The incident occurred at 2.10pm when the zoo was teeming with visitors. Alerted by the shouts of eyewitnesses, a zookeeper ran to the enclosure and tried to free the visitors hand. But the two tigers latched on to it till the limb was severed from the shoulder.
Bezbaruah, who was bleeding profusely, was rushed to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital where doctors pronounced him brought dead. They said he had died due to excessive bleeding and shock.
A resident of Dhekiakhowa in Jorhat and an instructor at a technical institute in Sivasagar, Bezbaruah had come to Guwahati today. He was visiting the zoo with his wife, two school-going sons and a relative.
His widow, Rita, was in a state of shock. Oh God, this is unbelievable, she screamed as the doctors at the hospital pronounced him dead.
The divisional forest officer of the zoo, Narayan Mahanta, who took the victim to the hospital, told The Telegraph that Bezbaruah made the grave mistake of crossing the first barricade and going too near the main enclosure.
Prashanta Gogoi, an eyewitness, said the staff at the zoo had told Bezbaruah not to cross the first barricade. But he did not heed the warning and crossed over after they moved away.
Sudangshu Mishra, a visitor from Nagpur said: It was entirely the victims fault. He should not have crossed the first barricade and approached the tigers enclosure. He even put his hands inside the iron railing to get a better photograph.
Mishra, who is yet to recover from the horrifying sight, said: Never try to fool around with a wild animal.
Lalit Lahkar, a young boy who saw the entire episode, said: I shouted tiger, tiger, after the animals attacked him. A zookeeper rushed in and tried to chase away the animals with his stick. But the tigers let off only when the victims hand got severed.
Bapukon Baishya, the zoo-keeper who had tried to save Bezbaruah, said: Although Divya slackened the grip when I intervened, Govardana did not budge and got away with the hand.
Eyewitnesses said Govardana walked around the enclosure with the bloody hand in his jaw. Zoo sources said he ate it up later.
Zoo veterinarian M.L. Smith said like all male tigers, seven-year-old Govardana was very aggressive and had killed and eaten his own cub a few months ago. Govardana and Divya were brought to the zoo from Karnataka in 2005.
The blood-splattered wall of the enclosure was a grim reminder of the ghastly incident. The zoo has seen the death of three persons before today.
Mahanta said two persons had committed suicide by jumping into a tigers enclosure from a view-bridge several years ago. They were mauled by the tigers.
However, a girl, who had attempted suicide in a similar manner was rescued by the zoo staff a couple of years ago.
In a strange coincidence, Divya turned five today. But its not the kind of celebration anyone would expect. Not even among tigers, Smith said.
The zoo has nine Royal Bengal tigers. Five of a family are kept in one enclosure, Govardana and Divya stay in an adjacent one and two others in another enclosure.