National Geographic News
Magicians Siegfried and Roy with a white Siberian tiger.

Roy Horn, right, was attacked by a white tiger during a performance in Las Vegas in 2003.

Photograph by Ethan Miller, Las Vegas Sun/Reuters/Corbis

Linda Poon

National Geographic News

Published March 8, 2013

On March 6, a lion in a cat sanctuary attacked and killed an intern-a reminder that big cats in captivity are extremely dangerous to their keepers and to the general public as well. If people are allowed to come into contact with the animals, says Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescues, the owners may assure the public everything is "perfectly safe. But as we see time and time again, it's not true and people end up being mauled and killed." Here are four attacks that made headlines.

Topeka, Kansas

In 2005, a 17-year-old teen named Haley Hilderbrand was killed in Topeka, Kansas, when she posed with a Siberian tiger for her senior portrait. Haley Hilderbrand, like students who have graduated before her, went to the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary-a family-run animal sanctuary-to take a picture with a seven-year-old tiger. Despite being restrained by its handler, the tiger turned and attacked Hilderbrand, who later died of her wounds. According to an article from The Wichita Eagle, her mother recounted the story to lawmakers after the incident, saying, "He attacked Haley exactly like a tiger attacks its prey, killing her instantly."

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In 2005, Russell Lala and his father were visiting the 11 exotic cats and bear kept by body shop owner Chuck Mock. The ten-year-old boy opened the door to a cage full of lions and tigers. One tiger lunged at the boy, and while the two adults attempted to pull the tiger off, a lion bit Lala and dragged him into another part of the cage. He sustained injuries to his face, brain, and spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

Las Vegas, Nevada

In 2003 during a show at the MGM Mirage, a seven-year-old white tiger attacked Roy Horn-part of the entertainment duo Siegfried and Roy-who had performed with tigers for years. The tiger reportedly lunged at Horn's neck and dragged him off the stage as if he was nothing more than a ragdoll in the cat's mouth. Emergency officials treated him for massive blood loss before rushing him to the University Medical Center for emergency surgery. He survived but suffered serious injuries, performed with tigers again, and subsequently retired from show business.

Bronx, New York

David Villalobos, 25 years old, made headlines in September 2012 when, in an attempted suicide, he jumped 17 feet from a monorail ride at Bronx Zoo into the den of an 11-year old Amur tiger. Emergency responders were able to separate the tiger from its victim, who was transported to the Jacobi Medical Center with a punctured lung and mauled leg, according to The New York Daily News. In January 2013, he pleaded not guilty to trespassing charges.

For further information and to learn more about big cats and other wild animals in captivity, read:

California Death Prompts Questions About Lion Attack

Should the Ohio Exotic Animals Have Been Shot?


R. Sands
R. Sands

That's funny you bring up Roy Horn.  I believe his account of what happened was quite different then the press put out.  People who know these animals personally can speak for them.  Not people trying to pass ban laws to further an agenda.  All animals deserve love, not just a few chosen ones that a small group decides on.

Jolie Adams
Jolie Adams

Read the truth about the fatal liger attack at Safari's Sanctuary in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, in 2008.  The owner, Lori Ensign-Scroggins, claimed the intern Peter Getz, violated safety practices by opening the gate to the liger enclosure.  It was the park manager, Kurt Beckelman, working with Pete to feed the big cats that day, who opened the gate, while Pete threw in the deer carcass into the enclosure and was subsequently attacked.  Not the first time that the liger was fed that way, either.  Both Ensign-Scroggins and Beckelman lied to the public and the USDA about the event, throwing Peter Getz's reputation under the bus in order to protect their own.  They still enter many of their big predator cats' enclosures to feed them while the cats are free within the enclosure, not separated.  You can read the full details, read the affidavit from another staff member present the day of the liger attack, and see photos of the park's actual behavior in feeding the big cats, at Safari's Truth Destination on Facebook.  This link will take you right to the specific article.

Hector J
Hector J

Please learn & compare with human attack/kill big cats .. then you'll know

Susan Lee
Susan Lee

I understand how people are fascinated at the idea of getting friendly with the big cats, but they should also respect the fact that they are predators. They should be feared before anything.

Melissa S
Melissa S

This is a ridiculous article. People seem incapable of realizing that accidents happen with nearly everything that you do. Why are exotic animal attacks so completely unacceptable while people can die in a myriad of other ways and no one gives a rat's a? About 1 person a year is killed by captive big cats. This article even includes a moron who intentionally jumped in the enclosure with them. Stay out of the animal's cages and I can assure you a big cat attack is not going to be in your future.


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