The title really should read “suicide by big cat”. I’ve chosen the tiger because this is the big cat chosen most often by men (yes, it appears always to be men) who want to end their life by jumping into a tiger enclosure at a zoo. On the face of it, it is a very unwise way to try and commit suicide. It must be terribly painful. Your death would not be instantaneous but likely to be dragged out to at least several minutes or more.
Suicide by white tiger attempt
Also, there is no certainty that you will be killed by tigers in a zoo enclosure. There is a story of one depressed and allegedly mentally ill Chinese man jumping into a tiger enclosure (they were white tigers) in order to kill himself and although they grabbed him by the neck and pulled him away they lost interest and did not eat him.
I wonder whether this is linked to the fact that they were white tigers which are heavily inbred. Perhaps they had lost their instinct to hunt and kill. Many white tigers suffer from congenital deformities and are presumably put down very early on in their life. Their characters may also be distorted and muted by inbreeding. Also we should not forget that humans are not a natural prey animal for the tiger. This may discourage an attack.
I’ve read at least two stories in which the man strip naked having managed to get into the enclosure. This appears to be part of the ritual. Perhaps they strip naked to encourage the tigers to attack and eat them. I don’t know whether it is universal but it seems that many of these cases concern men who have mental health problems. If you wanted to rationally kill yourself you will find a more expedient, less gruesome, less painful and ideally instantaneous way to achieve it. There may be some sort of ceremonial aspects of this. Maybe a deep fascination with big cats and the danger that they present may also be a factor. There may also be a fascination with having their flesh actually eaten by a big cat. As a kind of punishment. Indeed, they may desire the pain of this form of death.
In one case a man jumped into a lion enclosure, stripped his clothes off and then was attacked and killed (see the top picture on this page). He was 20 years of age and the story was reported on May 21, 2016. He did it while there were visitors at the zoo. They were horrified obviously. What is sad about this particular case is that the zookeepers had to try and save his life so they shot the lions. The zoo had a protocol about saving the lives of visitors but they were very distressed at having to kill the lions who had been with the zoo for more than 20 years. The man left a suicide note in his clothing. It made religious proclamations. It happened in Chile at the San Diego Metropolitan zoo.
An aspect of all these stories is that the enclosures are designed to keep tigers, lions and leopards or jaguars captive but the enclosure fences do not present an insurmountable barrier to a determined individual who wants to climb into the enclosure from outside of it. Perhaps zoos should consider making the barriers more effective in this respect.
Killing the big cats to save the man
Although in the San Diego Metropolitan Zoo case the lions were shot dead, it is not always the case that the big cats are killed, fortunately. They are sometimes tranquilized. In some instances the zookeepers enter the enclosure and move the big cats into an alternative enclosure and then attend to the needs of the suicidal man who has usually been either severely or mortally injured by the time they can get to him. The point I’m making here is that in some zoos the management do not see a necessity to immediately kill the big cats. They may even prioritise the welfare of the big cats over the man although that won’t be something that they publicise obvious reasons.
Personally, I would be of that type of management. I’m not suggesting that I want to see a person kill themselves in this way but then again I don’t want to see innocent big cats lose their lives because of the unhappy madness of a man who jumps into their enclosure and provokes them to eat his flesh.
There have been some peculiar instances of female zookeepers somehow ending up in an enclosure with a tiger despite the fact that there were strict protocols and systems which prevented the situation occurring. The reports have not clarified to me how these women got into the enclosure with the tiger. No doubt the zoo management reviewed the situation but to the best of my knowledge the reviews are not published online on the media websites. What I’m suggesting here is that there may be occasions when suicide by tiger or big cat has been perpetrated by a woman in the form of a perceived accident. I call this “accidental suicide”. There also may be an element of lacking the boldness to truly go for certain suicide where tempting fate is easier to do.
This is a far more subtle way to commit suicide and it doesn’t exclusively happen by jumping into a tiger enclosure at the zoo. It could happen anywhere. It is my belief that a good percentage of suicides take place this way. People who want to take their life sometimes want to give the appearance that they died in an accident. They therefore choose a scenario which is dangerous enough to kill them and they walk a very tight line between life and death within that scenario. They are tempting fate and if fate turns up they die. Otherwise they live and their spouse or relatives simply think that he or she was careless or negligent or even reckless but not trying to end their lives.
An example of this form of “accidental suicide” might be a person who swims in the sea knowing that there are strong currents or the waves are large and dangerous further out to sea. They swim out and get pulled by the current. They are drowned and it is classified as an accident. Obviously this sort of accidental suicide can never take place in a tiger enclosure if the person jumps into it as a visitor to the zoo. However, if it is a zoo keeper working at the zoo that person might be a victim of what I describe as “accidental suicide”.