Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Tigers maul trainer at German zoo

Ambulance leaving Hagenbeck Zoo (8 December 2009)
The director of Hagenbeck Zoo said the tigers would not be put down

An animal trainer is in a critical condition in a hospital in the German city of Hamburg after being attacked by three tigers during a performance.

Christian Walliser, 28, tripped over in an enclosure containing five of Bengal tigers during a "dinner circus" at the private Hagenbeck Zoo on Tuesday night.

The animals took this as a signal to "play" and pounced on Mr Walliser, biting his head and body, the zoo said.

They were eventually driven back into their cages with fire extinguishers.

Two doctors who happened to be in the audience treated the trainer before ambulance crews arrived, and the hall was quickly evacuated.

'Show must go on'

The director of Hagenbeck Zoo, Stefan Pagels, said the tigers would not be put down and expressed hope that Mr Walliser would soon return to work.

There was a one-in-a-million chance that something would go wrong, and it happened
Stefan Pagels
Director, Hagenbeck Zoo

"First of all, the tigers did nothing wrong. Secondly, we never punish our animals, we only ever reward them. Punishing them would serve no purpose and there is no reason to put them to sleep," he told the TV news channel, N24.

"As soon as Mr Walliser is back, and we hope that will be soon, he will look after the animals again," he added. "There was a one-in-a-million chance that something would go wrong, and it happened."

He said the performances would continue, albeit without tigers.

"We have a saying in the circus business: 'The show must go on.' We are sure Mr Walliser wants us to go on."

The trainer, who had raised two of the five tigers in the cage from birth, lost part of his left hand in the incident. His injuries are considered life threatening.

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