Why do tigers attack people

The largest living big cat is called "King of the Jungle" and scared the human child Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book". Because as graceful as tigers look - they are and remain predators, even when they lie lazily in the sun in zoos or jump through hoops in animal shows and in the circus.

On Tuesday evening there was another clash between tigers and a person: Shortly before the start of a show by the dinner circus in the old Hagenbeck dressage hall in Hamburg, the 28-year-old animal trainer Christian Walliser was life-threateningly attacked by three of his five tigers.

They wanted to play with him

While the first guests were being let into the hall, the animal teacher who was hired for the dinner circus stumbled in the central cage and for a moment lost control of his five young animals. The organizer Stefan Pagels announced in a statement on the Internet that they started "playing with him" and seriously injured him in the process.

According to him, however, it was not a malicious attack. The young animals only followed a natural "spontaneous reaction".

Even zoo founder Carl Hagenbeck discovered at the beginning of the 20th century that the graceful big cats cannot be tamed. He fell in the outdoor enclosure and was then attacked by "his lions". He only survived the attack because his favorite lion, Trieste, came to his aid - it was probably an extraordinary friendship between the two.

Zoo without bars

Today a bronze statue of the lion adorns the grave of Hagenbeck, who was known for his skills as a "predator whisperer". It is also due to his attitude towards animals that Hagenbeck's zoo was designed as a zoo without bars.

The dinner circus show in which the accident now occurred, however, does not belong to Hagenbeck's zoo, even if it is on the premises. "We have leased the old dressage hall from the Hagenbeck Zoo - otherwise there are no connections to it," said director Korinna Pagels when asked by sueddeutsche.de. The dinner circus animals are not open to the zoo visitors.

Health status unknown

She has "no further information" at the moment about the condition of the Augsburg tamer, who also performed in the Munich Circus Krone with his tigers last winter season and was critically injured on Tuesday evening.

The tiger act in the dinner circus is just one attraction of many, in addition to performances by clowns, artists and aerial acrobats. In addition to the dinner circus with ticket prices between 80 and 150 euros and guests such as former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Franz Beckenbauer, media czars and celebrities, the old dressage hall also hosts award ceremonies, automobile presentations, auctions of fine horses, ball nights and general meetings.

As once with Siegfried & Roy

Many animal fans became aware that big cats can never be tamed but only trained after the attack on the magician Roy by the show duo Siegfried & Roy in 2003. Back then, in Las Vegas, the 300 kilogram tiger Montecore stood on his hind legs and bit the trainer Roy Horn first on the arm and then on the neck and dragged him backstage.

In a later interview, Roy said it wasn't an attack, it was an accident. The white tiger apparently sensed that something was wrong - Roy had previously suffered a light heart attack on stage - and then tried to get him backstage to safety. The tiger injured the magician so badly that he suffered a stroke and is still partially paralyzed to this day.

In the approximately 5700 performances with 63 big cats there had never been any incidents before.

The instinct to kill

The exotic veterinarian Robert Fitz repeatedly treats tigers in his clinic in Gessertshausen near Augsburg, but even he can only partially explain why a tiger suddenly attacks: "Tigers are predators that were born to kill, you have to be aware of that be, "he said sueddeutsche.de. However, they would not attack their trainer if he kept a tolerance distance of one to two meters and looked at them head-on. "If this distance is not reached, for example due to a fall, a switch on the Tiger may be thrown and then everything will be forgotten."

The tiger may then attack the person with whom it has worked for years. Even if you turn your back on the big cats, they could sense a chance to attack and "the instinct to kill in order to eat" is awakened. Since tigers are loners in nature, their sense of hierarchy is also not as pronounced as, for example, with lions. That complicates the dressage.

Hagenbeck's zoo refrains from the accident in the dinner circus: Neither zoo animals nor employees are involved in the preparation and design of the dinner circus program, said Michaela Geist, press spokeswoman for the zoo. The critically injured trainer Christian Walliser is not a zoo keeper and the Siberian tigers in Hagenbeck's zoo are not part of the show. Korinna and Stefan Pagels have been the only tenants of the old dressage hall since 1999: "They run all events on their own, unfortunately we have no influence at all," said zoo spokeswoman Geist sueddeutsche.de.

Events initiated by Hagenbeck's zoo itself are the so-called dinners among sharks in the tropical aquarium. But these are not "animal shows" either, but the guests can have dinner in a cozy atmosphere with a view of the large tropical aquarium - and the "animal surprise guest" announced on the zoo's homepage is certainly not a tiger, Geist said.