A man has died after he was subjected to a prolonged and horrific attack by a rare white tiger.

The man cowered as the rare white tiger approached

The man cowered as the rare white tiger approached

Witnesses are divided on whether the man jumped into the tiger’s enclosure voluntarily or somehow fell over the low railings that surrounded the enclosure. However he came to be in with the tiger, witnesses said he cowered against the side of the wall as the big cat approached him.

The tiger struck and clamped its jaws round its 22 year-old victim. Horrified witnesses explained how the man was trapped in the animal’s powerful jaws for between 10 and 15 minutes. Despite onlookers’ frantic efforts to frighten the tiger into relaxing its grip by throwing sticks and stones, the big cat killed the man before the police were able to get to the scene. In fact, some experts have said that efforts to frighten the tiger may have simply enraged it.

One visitor to the Delhi Zoo in India said: “Around 1.30pm, when we were in the reptiles area, we heard very loud screams. We saw some kids throwing in small sticks and stones inside the tiger enclosure. Then we saw that a white tiger had caught a boy by his neck and he was writhing badly in pain. He kept suffering for the next 10-15 minutes but nobody helped him.”

A spokesman for the National Zoological Park, Riyaz Ahmed Khan, has since claimed that the man climbed into the enclosure by choice, scaling a knee-high fence and hedges, before jumping 18ft down into a protective moat. Mr Khan says the man did this despite repeated warnings that he should not get too close to the tigers.

The tiger lives on a tree-lined island on a moat in the enclosure. Once the man had landed in the moat, the tiger was able to grab him from the water.

Witnesses report that the man's body remained in the tiger enclosure for two hours

Witnesses report that the man’s body remained in the tiger enclosure for two hours

The police arrived on the scene and zoo workers were able to frighten the tiger into a small cage within its enclosure and allow paramedics access to its victim, but he could not be saved. The zoo roped off the tiger enclosure, but the man’s body was left there for two hours and the zoo remained open.

Delhi police have said they are investigating the incident.