There are several hundred white tigers in captivity around the world. Photo: iStock.

A zookeeper was attacked and killed by a white tiger in southern Japan on Monday afternoon.

Akira Furusho, 40, was found bleeding from the neck at the Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima after the park was closed at 5pm, AFP reported. Officials say that it is possible Furusho was mauled by one of the zoo’s white tigers.

Furusho was pronounced dead after being brought to a hospital, Kyodo reported.

Hirakawa Zoological park said rescue workers and police officers rushed to the scene and sedated the tiger with a tranquilizer gun.

Further information on what the zoo will do with the tiger has yet to be disclosed. Police officers are investigating how the zoo treated the white tigers, probing for possible causes of the attack.

Opened in 1972, the zoo has four of the rare white tigers and is run by a public company under a contract with the municipal government.

The white tiger or bleached tiger is a rare type of Bengal tiger, which is reported in the wild from time to time in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar, plus the Sunderbans region.

Wikipedia says the white fur is caused by a lack of pheomelanin, a pigment found in Bengal tigers with the normal orange-colored fur.

White tigers are said to be born once in every 10,000 births.

Currently, there are several hundred white tigers in captivity worldwide, with about 100 in India. Their white color has made them popular at zoos and in entertainment acts that showcase exotic animals.

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