Thursday, December 10, 2009

....Circus act trainer mauled by tigers as diners look on....


Thu, Dec 10, 2009

A GERMAN animal trainer is in a critical condition after he was mauled by three Bengali 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 to attend the “dinner circus” event, 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, losing control of the tigers, three of which 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 force the tigers back into their cages.

Eyewitnesses said those quick actions probably saved his life.

A doctor 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 audience members, including Walliser’s boyfriend, were treated for shock.

Doctors amputated Walliser’s left hand and said he suffered serious head and chest injuries. He remains in a critical condition.

The event took place on Tuesday night at the Hagenbeck Dressage hall, one of the oldest active circus venues in Europe.

Hamburg Tierpark, the 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 the tigers had “taken advantage” of their trainer’s momentary loss of control “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 said 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 tiger act.

A police investigation was launched into the incident, which has drawn comparisons with the horrific attack suffered by Roy Horn, of German duo Siegfried and Roy, who nearly died after being mauled by his tiger, Montecore, 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.

© 2009 Guardian Service