McLaren Circus at Muldersdrift where circus worker was attacked by a tiger ,he sustained severe bite wounds and lacerations to his neck and chest.807 Picture: Matthews Baloyi 2014/08/24

Cape Town - The owner of McLaren Circus on Monday morning said the attack on a cleaner by a tiger while he was mopping an enclosure was “not as bad” as people were making it out to be.

He said the cleaner was in a stable condition.

However, according to reports the employee suffered deep lacerations and puncture wounds to his chest, shoulder and neck when the animal mauled him on Sunday in Muldersdrift, Joburg.

Amid calls to have the tiger put down, owner David McLaren said the incident happened because of “human error”.

“It’s not as bad as people are making it out to be,” he told the Cape Argus on Monday morning, adding that the animal was not to blame.

The cleaner was mopping up the tiger enclosures, something that has to be done daily. It involves portioning off the five-part enclosure by latching up the cages to allow people to work safely without the “cats interfering”.

McLaren said the cleaner had forgotten to close the safety clips, allowing the tiger to open the cage door.

That’s when the screams started, according to performer Jansen Grant, who heard the cry for help from his caravan. He arrived to find the 150kg tiger tearing at the man’s jacket and neck.

Grabbing a broom, Grant used it to swat the animal away and dragged the cleaner to safety.

McLaren said the tiger was probably just protecting her territory.

“None of the tigers showed signs of aggression following what happened.”

The circus has four tigers and four lions.

McLaren had visited the hospital where the cleaner, whom neither he nor paramedics wanted to name, is being treated. Doctors had told him he was recovering but the extent of his wounds was still not known.

McLaren received a lot of flak on social media after he appeared on TV referring to the attack as a “scratch”. People accused him of downplaying the attack, something he denied.

“The only reason I look like I’m downplaying this is because of what Netcare 911 said following the attack. They were wrong; I’m clearly just stating the facts.”

The ambulance company said the man was a critical condition.

“Look, what I’m going to say is when our guys got there they graded the wounds on the most serious level,” spokesman Chris Botha said on Monday.

This is not the first time the cats at McLaren’s Circus have been in the spotlight. Last year, the SPCA accused the circus of falsely using its name to endorse its performing animals.

The SPCA wildlife unit manager at the time, Brett Glasby, said it did not approve of animals in travelling circuses or menageries. “The SPCA is opposed to any degree of confinement or the use of any animal in sport, entertainment or exhibition likely to cause distress or suffering or which may adversely affect the animal’s welfare.”

But circus spokesman Arnold Dickson responded that the SPCA had inspected the circus. “We get inspected in each town we play across SA.”

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Cape Argus