An animal handler was rushed to hospital on Tuesday after being attacked by a tiger at Australia Zoo, the Queensland institution made famous by the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
The senior tiger handler was in a serious but stable condition after being bitten on the neck and shoulder when the animal, which he had raised since it was a cub, became overexcited during play, officials said.
“He is stable and recovering in hospital. Our support is with him and his family,” Australia Zoo said on its twitter account.
Australia Zoo director Wes Mennon said co-workers witnessed the attack and helped drag the man, who had worked with big cats for nine years, to safety.
“At the time of the incident, our emergency response team were on the scene immediately. They acted professionally and calmly. My hat goes off to them,” he said in a statement.
Officials said the man, who has not been named, suffered two large puncture wounds and was conscious when he was flown to a Brisbane hospital.
RACQ Careflight doctor Andrew Haggerty said the injuries could have been worse.
“The neck is a very complex area and contains lots of serious structures including blood vessels, and perhaps most importantly the airway… any bleeding in the area itself could cause significant complications,” he told reporters.
Reports said that the trainer was mauled after a show, and the tiger bit the man on the shoulder and neck before pushing him into the water feature in the enclosure.
“I saw the tiger attack at Australia Zoo today,” tweeted one man before posting a picture of a media throng at the zoo.
“Things went from playful to violent instantly. I hope that poor fella recovers quickly,” wrote dbass9.
The Australia Zoo, which keeps three Bengal and eight Sumatran tigers at the facility north of Brisbane, said it was conducting a full investigation.
The Australia Zoo is a 100-acre facility on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast made popular by Irwin, who starred in the hugely successful wildlife documentary series The Crocodile Hunter.
Helicopter pilot Alan Carstens, who had been called to the scene to take the man to hospital, said it was a strange afternoon.
“I honestly thought someone was kidding me, they said, ‘It’s a tiger attack’, I said ‘no’, but it was,” he told reporters.
“We landed just outside the African (enclosure) area, right next door to where the tigers are.
“I waited with the chopper, I was looking at a tortoise straight opposite me, I thought it was a rock initially, then it started moving.”