Bears Maul Zookeeper to Death in Front of Visitors in China Animal Park

A zookeeper in China was mauled to death by bears over the weekend in front of a bus full of visitors on a tour of Shanghai Wild Animal Park.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the incident, which occurred on Saturday inside an area that is only accessible to the public from inside a vehicle. The victim was not named but has been identified by state media as an animal breeder.

It was not clear how or why the victim had entered the area known to house a variety of dangerous animals, but the zoo suggested the person was "carrying out work." A video reportedly showing the incident was obtained and published by the Daily Mail.

The footage, which was seemingly taken by a person on a nearby bus, shows a group of bears crowded in a circle close to a pond section of the enclosure.

Officials from the zoo confirmed the free-roam area housing the bears had been closed and said they are "extremely distressed that such a tragedy occurred." In a statement posted online, the zoo apologized to visitors for "any inconvenience caused."

As videos purporting to show the fatal attack spread on Chinese social media platform Weibo over the weekend, Shanghai zoo officials pledged to improve procedures, refund the cost of tickets to tourists and strengthen internal safety operations.

State media outlet Global Times reported that an excavator operator who was working nearby had unsuccessfully tried to scare the bears away, but the animals "dragged" the victim away. The operator waited in the vehicle until police arrived at the scene.

The video clips circulating on Chinese social media reportedly sparked debate about the existence and safety of zoos, with the state media tabloid reporting that many users had questioned if safety protocols at the zoo were breached by the worker.

On its website, the Shanghai Wild Animal Park says its drive-through section contains multiple species of lions, tigers, wolves,cheetahs and bears. It says brown bears and black bears live together inside a bus-only section that is called Bear Home.

"Surprisingly, the two species coexist in harmony in the home," the zoo explains in a description online. "Bears have acute senses of smell and hearing but poor vision. The bears often amuse visitors as they are drawn by tour buses and beg for food."

The exact species involved in the attack is unknown.

In the wake of the employee's death, the business offered condolences to the worker's family. It has not confirmed when the bear enclosure would reopen. "We'll learn a tough lesson from the tragedy and further strengthen safety management in all aspects," the zoo said in a statement to China Daily, an English-language state media outlet.

Brown bear
This picture taken on April 7, 2017, shows a brown bear in the new enclosure "La forêt des ours" at the Amneville Zoo in Amneville, eastern France. A zookeeper in China was mauled to death by bears over the weekend in front of a bus of visitors on a tour of Shanghai Wild Animal Park. JEAN CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty