Tiger 'mistook' handler for toy in mauling

Last updated 11:26 28/11/2013
Channel 9 News

Amateur video shows a tiger attacking his trainer during a public show at Australia Zoo. WARNING: Graphic Content

tiger and trainer
Seven News
ATTACKED: The tiger lunges at his trainer.

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When you're about to face off against a 114kg Sumatran-Bengal tiger, it's best not to dress as its favourite biting toy.

New theories have emerged about what caused a large male tiger to turn on its handler at Queensland's Australia Zoo on Tuesday.

It now appears the handler's decision to ditch his normal uniform and don a blue poncho-like top could have provoked the animal because it made him resemble its favourite biting toy.

In the unusual attire, handler Dave Styles may have looked to the tiger like garbage bags the animals use as play toys and are allowed to bite, The Courier-Mail reports.

Styles was also wearing an unfamiliar camera on his head, in preparation for the filming of a documentary, when he was attacked earlier this week.

The tiger raised itself on two legs and dragged Styles into a pool just after the daily show at the zoo on the Sunshine Coast.

While in the water, Styles was bitten on the neck and shoulder with puncture wounds near vital blood vessels.

Zoo director Wes Mannion told The Courier-Mail the bag-like suit was used on Tuesday as an "enrichment" tool during tiger playtime.

The zoo's internal investigation will look at what the handler was wearing at the time, among other things.

Mannion said the six-year-old tiger named Charlie mistook the handler for a toy.

"We don't try and stop them from biting the toys they play with and like I said it was an accident," he said.

"He didn't think he had a human, he thought he had a toy."

Mannion did not say whether it was the first time the tiger had been introduced to the different outfit.

Australia Zoo's website says a rubbish bag tied to a stick is one of the tigers' most popular toys.

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