A female Bengali white tiger drags a man by his shirt after the man climbed into the enclosure, at a zoo in Chengdu, Sichuan province February 16, 2014
A female Bengali white tiger drags Yang Jinhai by his shirt after the man climbed into the enclosure, at a zoo in Chengdu, Sichuan province 16 February, 2014Reuters

A man attempted to feed himself to some tigers in a freak stunt to improve the lives of the caged animals at a China zoo.

Zoo keepers managed to save the life of the mentally ill man, named Yang Jinhai, after he was dragged by the shirt by one of the Bengali white tigers at a zoo in the Chengdu, Sichuan province.

The 27-year-old escaped with minor injuries and was taken away by police. Two tigers were later tranquilized by zoo staff.

Jinhai decided to sacrifice himself in an act of support for the animals after he felt depressed at seeing the 'noble and magnificent tigers' in caged surroundings, unable to be free to hunt and kill in their natural habitat.

Eyewitness Feng Lin said: "He climbed up the outside of the cage and jumped inside expecting, I assume, that the tigers would pounce on him. Instead the two tigers, a male and a female, seemed more nervous than anything else and the female actually ran off.

"He then tried to antagonise the tigers by pulling faces at them. Eventually he was attacked by the male where he was cut after being scratched and bitten before he could be rescued by zoo keepers who fired a tranquilliser dart at the male tiger."

The former factory worker previously posted several online messages about how optimistic he was about starting a new life after landing a job as a security guard in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province.

But he quickly found the job boring and moved into a printing factory where he also later resigned – believing there was more to life.

Jinhai's family told local media Mr Jinha had been depressed for a long time and said that he had been taken to a home where he was given psychiatric counselling to cope with his problems.