Tigers attack German trainer after fall at dinner show
Experienced trainer in critical condition after mauling by animals in front of shocked audience at circus event in Hamburg
Kate Connolly in Berlin guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 9 December 2009 14.52 GMT
A German animal trainer is in a critical condition after he was pounced on and mauled by three Bengal tigers at a celebrity circus event.
Christian Walliser, 28, an experienced tiger trainer, was attacked after he stumbled during the show in Hamburg. The 200 guests watched in horror as Walliser was pinned to the ground by the tigers.
Members of the audience, who had each paid €132 (£120) to attend the Dinner Circus, were on the starter of a five-course meal as Walliser came into the ring to perform his show with five tigers.
At first onlookers thought it was part of the act as he fell, and three of the tigers immediately pounced on him. "Initially it looked like they wanted to play with him," one of the audience told German media.
The tigers dug their teeth into Walliser's head and upper body, tearing off most of his left hand.
Within 30 seconds other trainers ran to his aid, using water cannons and fire extinguishers to forced the tigers back into their cages.
Eyewitnesses said those quick actions probably saved his life.
A doctor who happened to be in the audience was able to stop the worst of the bleeding before medics appeared.
Walliser was rushed to nearby Eppendorf hospital where emergency surgery was performed.
Several of the audience members, including Walliser's boyfriend, were treated for shock.
Doctors amputated Walliser's left hand and said he had suffered serious head and chest injuries in the attack. He remains in a critical condition.
The event took place last night at the Hagenbeck Dressage hall, one of the oldest active circus venues in Europe. Hamburg Tierpark, owners of the venue, said it "deeply regretted" the incident.
Stefan Pagels, who with his wife, Korinna, organised the Dinner Circus and has been hosting similar events over the past decade, said it was likely that the tigers had "taken advantage" of their trainer's momentary loss of control over them "as an apparent opportunity to play with him".
He praised Walliser as an experienced trainer, who he said "stands out for his calm and level-headed approach to the animals".
Pagels adding that the trainer had been working with the animals for some time, and had "built up a trusting relationship" with them.
He and his wife thanked the guests for reacting "quickly and calmly" for calls to evacuate the circus arena.
The Pagels later made the surprise announcement that the show will continue until the end of the year, albeit without the big cats act.
A police investigation was launched into the incident but a spokesman said initially there did not appear to be any suspicious circumstances.
The incident has drawn comparisons with the horrific attack suffered by Roy Horn, of German duo Siegfried and Roy, who nearly died after being mauled by a tiger during a Las Vegas show in 2003.
Horn's recovery and his subsequent return to the circus ring despite initial predictions that he would never recover, was followed closely by the German media.
• In December 2006, a man was mauled by a tiger at a circus in Spain. His arm was ripped off after he entered a restricted area to take a photograph.
• A girl aged five was attacked by a colobus monkey that escaped at a circus performance in Ireland in June 2005. The girl lost part of her finger.
• In the same month an elephant from the same Circus New York gored a circus worker who needed emergency surgery.
• In August 2001, a lion tamer with a circus in Australia was pulled to the ground and mauled. He had been working with lions for 10 years and returned to his job after recovering.
• In Norfolk, Graham Chipperfield was seriously injured in 1993 after being attacked by a lioness during training for a Ringling Brothers performance called Lion Attack.