Tiger mauls grandmother to death at Beijing safari park

Julie Makinen
Los Angeles Times

Beijing — Beijing Badaling Wildlife World promises visitors a safari experience just 30 miles from the center of the Chinese capital. Customers can drive their own cars through a park where lions, tigers and other wild game roam free. But on Saturday afternoon, one family's outing ended with a Siberian tiger mauling a 57-year-old grandmother to death.

The incident, caught on security camera video aired by state-run China Central Television, is chilling: A woman can be seen stepping out from the front passenger’s side of a white sedan and walking around to the driver's side. As her husband opens his door, a tiger suddenly bounds up to the vehicle, knocking the woman to the pavement and dragging her off the roadway.

The man rushes out of the car to come to his wife's aid, along with the woman's mother, who had been sitting in the back seat along with the couple's son.

Although park staff appeared on the scene almost immediately in a green SUV, a second tiger attacked the older woman, killing her on the spot, authorities said.

The younger woman, who according to local media reports is in her 30s, was taken to a hospital and was expected to survive. The park was closed pending an investigation.

Why the woman got out of the vehicle remains unclear. Park visitors are required to sign an agreement saying they will lock their doors, keep their windows up and not get out of their vehicles while driving through the 1.5-square-mile facility, which is near the Great Wall northwest of Beijing. Loudspeakers along the driving route continually remind visitors to stay in their cars.

Badaling Wildlife World's website says visitors can "feed the beasts" and "get close to mild animals." In one section with particularly unfortunate wording, it says: "You can get to know the process of returning animals to their wild state and feel the meaning of 'survival of the fittest.'"

A Beijing government tourism site describes Badaling Wildlife World as the largest wildlife zoo in the country, with about 10,000 animals including bears, kangaroos, monkeys, wolves and peacocks. Admission costs about $13.50 for adults. The park is also known as Badaling Safari World.

It wasn't the first fatal incident at the facility. In 2009, three young men who were on an outing at the Great Wall decided to take a shortcut home and hopped the park's fence. An 18-year-old was killed by a tiger.

In a 2012 incident that echoed the events of this weekend, a female visitor got out of her car — apparently to urinate by the roadside — and was bitten by a tiger. She survived.

In 2014, a park ranger was bitten by a tiger and died. And this past spring, a park staffer who was cleaning the elephant habitat was trampled to death by one of the animals.

The U.S. has at least one similar drive-through wild animal park, called Lion Country Safari, in Palm Beach County, Florida.