A 25-year-old mentally-unstable man leapt into the enclosure of a lion at the Delhi zoo on Thursday, came face to face with the big cat and moved around unconcerned about the lurking danger, before the zoo staff rescued him after tranquillising the animal.
The incident brought back the dreadful memories of a 2014 episode when a white tiger mauled a man to death after he had jumped inside its enclosure in the Delhi zoo.
The ghastly incident had hit the headlines world over, prompting the zoo authorities to review security measures.
Thursday noon, Rehan Khan, who hails from Bihar's East Champaran district and currently resides in Delhi's Seelampur area, jumped around 20 feet down into the moat, walked up to the lion and casually sat in front of it. All of this happened within a few seconds, a zoo official said.
Delhi zoo curator and spokesperson Riyaz Khan said the security personnel tried to stop the man, but before they could get hold of him, he jumped into the moat.
Watch Video: Man comes face-to-face with lion in zoo
"Delhi zoo security officer Rohit Kumar, Range Officer Saurabh Vashistha were among the first ones to respond to the situation. Zoo Director Renu Singh supervised the rescue operation that lasted around 15 minutes," another official said.
"Our rapid response team of 10 officials tranquillised the lion from outside before entering the enclosure, and rescued the man," Riyaz Khan said.
Zoo security personnel maintain tight vigil round-the-clock, he claimed, adding that this cannot be categorised as a case of security breach.
"Keeping the animal inside a cage is not a solution when people deliberately do such things," he added.
A zoo official attributed primarily two reasons for the lion not attacking the man even though it was in empty stomach when the incident occurred. The lion is given food at 5 pm everyday when it retreats to its cage, the official said.
"First, the family of the man has said he's mentally unstable and thus, he was not afraid of the animal and made a direct eye contact with it.
"Second, Sundram was born in the zoo and has been looked after by its handler since birth. It doesn't really know how to kill. Also, it thought that the man was one of us (the zoo staff)," he said.
"As soon as we were alerted, we cordoned off the area as commotion would have rattled the lion," a member of the rescue team said.
Unlike in 2014 when the zoo staff took longer in their efforts to save the intruder, this time they acted swiftly and followed a standard operating procedure prepared for such emergency situations.
The zoo administration has kept a ladder in the enclosure of every carnivore.
"Using this ladder, Kumar and Vashishtha climbed down inside the animal's enclosure, while its handler tried to distract him," he said.
Rehan Khan did not sustain any injury and seems to be mentally disturbed, according to the police.
He has been sent for medical examination, the police said.
A video of the incident, which occurred around 12:30 pm, soon became viral.
The video clip showed the man squatting down on a plank in front of the 10-year-old animal. He lied down and quickly rose to a sitting position again.
The lion moved around the man before pushing him lightly with its paws.
The visitors who witnessed the entire episode said before handing him over to the police, the zoo staff roughed up the man.
Another zoo official said the man made hand gestures towards the animal but it did not attack him.
"Had it been a white tiger, he would not have been this fortunate," he said.
"The onlookers kept shouting, asking him to come back, but he did not pay any heed," the official said.