A circus trainer was fighting for his life on Wednesday after being mauled by a trio of tigers during a performance in front of 170 horrified spectators, organisers and emergency services said.
Christian Walliser, 28, stumbled in the enclosure containing the big cats on Tuesday evening and “as a spontaneous reaction” three of the five Bengali tigers took this as a signal to “play”, the Hamburg venue said in a statement.
In the 30 seconds that it took circus employees to beat the animals back with fire extinguishers and hoses, the tigers ripped off Walliser’s left hand and inflicted serious head and upper body injuries.
Spectators at the Pagels Dinner Circus annual Christmas special in a hall of a zoo were swiftly evacuated, with two treated in hospital for shock, the fire brigade said.
Circus chief Stefan Pagels said that the tigers would not be put down and expressed hope that Walliser would soon be back at work.
“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 said on news channel N24.
“What you sometimes hear about animals getting a taste for human blood is complete and utter rubbish. As soon as Mr Walliser is back, and we hope that will be soon, he will look after the animals again.
“There is a one-in-a-million chance that something will go wrong, and it happened … We have a saying in the circus business that says ‘The show must go on.’ … We are sure that Mr Walliser wants us to go on.”