Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Bangladesh 'tiger boy' to return

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Joseph Zeitlyn
Mr Zeitlyn says that he is lucky to be alive

A 25-year-old student who survived a close encounter with a tiger while on holiday as a child in Bangladesh plans to return to the scene of the incident.

Joseph Zeitlyn came face-to-face with an adult Royal Bengal tiger when aged nine on board a small rowing boat.

The animal swam to the side of the vessel and became increasingly agitated as it got trapped in its tow rope.

His parents watched helplessly as the tiger thrashed around the boat for several minutes before swimming off.

'Better view'

The incident happened when Mr Zeitlyn's rowing boat was being towed by a larger vessel on a sightseeing trip in the Sundarbans mangrove forest of south-eastern Bangladesh. Only he and a Bangladeshi boat man were on board.

"The captain of the river cruiser was alerted by something several hundred metres away," Mr Zeitlyn, from London, said.

Joseph Zeitlyn on board the boat where the attack happened in 1992
The young Joseph in the rowing boat where he faced the tiger

"The passengers on the larger boat were initially unaware of exactly what they could see in the river but as they neared, they realised that the object was a nine-foot-long Bengal tiger."

Such was the excitement generated by seeing the creature - which is only rarely spotted by tourists in the Sundarbans - that the larger boat went closer to the animal so that those on board could get a better view.

Mr Zeitlyn said they started shouting and throwing things at the tiger - "much like children in a zoo" to try and get "a reaction from a rare and dangerous animal".

As ropes and other objects were thrown at the beast, it became increasingly agitated and swam from the front of the boat to the rear of the vessel, where he and the boatman looked on with some concern.

"I remember that it got entangled with the rope connecting our boat to the larger launch," Mr Zeitlyn said.

"The tiger struggled to get under the rope - but couldn't - which only served further to enrage it.

Tigers in the Sundarbans are notorious for attacking fishermen in boats

"It began clawing at the rope in desperation to get away.

"At that point the boatman told me to lie flat - face downwards in our vessel - because there was a genuine fear that it could harm us."

In the meantime Mr Zeitlyn's mother, Sushila, watched the drama unfold from the deck of the larger vessel. Tigers in the Sunderbans are notorious for attacking fishermen, many of whom are seized from the same sort of vessel the young Joseph was travelling in.

While Sushila was powerless to do anything, a friend did manage to photograph the tiger - but dropped the film afterwards so that only a few grainy images survive.

Eventually the tiger managed to disentangle itself and swam to the other side of the river.

"I don't think I realised at the time that I had a narrow escape. I think I am one of the few Westerners alive who survived a close encounter with such a dangerous animal," Mr Zeitlyn said.

The post-graduate student is now returning to Bangladesh on a work experience trip and plans to re-visit the scene of the incident.

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