Circus Tigers Fatally Maul Handler After Escaping Enclosure

Police in central China shot dead two circus tigers who had escaped their enclosure and fatally mauled a handler on Tuesday, in what was the country's second such incident in just three days.

The big cats, believed to be mature Siberian tigers, escaped into a tourist park in Xichuan County, in Nanyang in Henan province, according to a statement released by the local forestry office.

The handler, who was identified by the last name Jia, was taken to a local hospital after the incident at Danjiang Peacock Valley. The victim was pronounced dead at the facility, a government statement read.

Escaped Tigers Fatally Maul Circus Handler
Escaped Tigers Fatally Maul Circus Handler
Tigers bred at Danjiang Peacock Valley in Xichuan County, Nanyang, Henan, China.

The Xichuan Forestry Bureau said park employees and members of the public were evacuated from the scene area, while the animals were contained within the boundaries of the park. Representatives from local government, as well as public security, paramilitary, forestry, fire department and health officials, were assembled at the park during the incident.

The forestry office said the escaped tigers failed to be recaptured following "multiple attempts." Armed police were authorized to shoot dead the tigers, which were killed at 2:20 p.m. and 3:12 p.m. respectively.

The decision was taken out of concern for crowd safety, according to the statement, which identified the big cats as having belonged to a circus registered in Suzhou, Anhui province.

Danjiang Peacock Valley had hired the circus to perform at the park. The troupe had the required licenses to keep and breed the tigers, said the forestry bureau.

An investigation into the incident was still ongoing at the time of publication. The park did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Escaped Tigers Fatally Maul Circus Handler
Escaped Tigers Fatally Maul Circus Handler
Danjiang Peacock Valley in Xichuan County, Nanyang, Henan, China.

As the name suggests, the scenic area specializes in breeding peafowl and markets related souvenirs. The park has a petting area as well as its own zoo, where pictures showed swan, emu, peafowl, lions, tigers, bears, camels, monkeys and squirrels.

It also has a taxidermy museum that hosts school trips.

Tuesday's tragedy follows a similar incident in Bengbu, Anhui, where a 55-year-old zookeeper was mauled to death on Sunday while cleaning a Siberian tiger enclosure. The victim, named Yang, had reportedly worked at the zoo for two decades.

Local reports said Yang was attacked by the big cat after a gate to an isolated section of the enclosure was left unlocked. The tiger, one of four captive-bred cats at the zoo, did not escape into other areas of the zoo.

Following the Bengbu incident, Communist Party newspaper China Daily called for stronger management and a better understanding of the risks involved in what appears to be an increasingly popular industry.

The latest casualty, however, has renewed calls for China to curb circuses and zoos.

"What is the purpose of these zoos? To satisfy some strange human curiosity? If you want to conserve these animals, why can't we send them back to nature reserves?" one Weibo user commented.

On the social media platform—China's largest with more than 500 million active monthly users—a trending hashtag reading "two tigers escaped enclosure and fatally maul handler in Nanyang" had been read 110 million times at the time of writing.

"It's not the first time we've heard horrifying news about these zoos or circuses—wild animals confined to cramped, barren wire cages—and they are always exhibited in crowded, noisy, and unnatural environments," PETA Asia told Newsweek in a written statement.

"Lifelong stress often drives animals in zoos or circuses to lash out and become dangerous to both trainers and visitors. PETA is calling on kind people everywhere to refuse to attend facilities that make money from imprisoning animals," the spokesperson added.

This story has been updated with comment from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Escaped Tigers Fatally Maul Circus Handler
Danjiang Peacock Valley in Xichuan County, Nanyang, Henan, China. Danjiang Peacock Valley