A heavily trailed BBC documentary showing how tiger cubs are hand-reared at an Australian zoo, fails to disclose that a keeper was attacked and critically injured while the crew was filming there.
The keeper at Australia Zoo in Queensland was badly mauled while playing with a 114kg tiger before a crowd of spectators last November. Dave Styles, 30, suffered serious puncture wounds to his neck and spent ten days in intensive care. A BBC camera team had been filming at the zoo for four months at the time of the attack, yet there’s no reference to it in the forthcoming BBC2 series Tigers about the House.
A spokeswoman said the attack had not been filmed and therefore wasn’t mentioned in the film. Asked whether it wasn’t a necessary piece of editorial balance she responded: “Tigers About The House is a documentary series about two new Sumatran tiger cubs and this incident is not part of their story so does not feature in the programme.”
The documentary follows British-born keeper Giles Clark as he removes the two newborn cubs from their mother and hand-rears them at home. The practice – known as socialisation – is designed to make the tigers more comfortable with human interaction.
On the day of the attack, Styles had a digital camera strapped to his head. The BBC has confirmed that Styles was wearing the camera to accustom the tiger to its presence in preparation for filming. None of the crew were present because the camera wasn’t recording. One of the first people on the scene to rescue the injured member of staff was Clark, the keeper featured in the documentary.
Originally a reptile and fauna park, Australia Zoo was opened in 1970 by Bob and Lyn Irwin, the parents of wildlife presenter Steve Irwin who died in 2006 after being hit by a stingray barb while snorkeling. During his lifetime Steve was frequently criticised for his gung-ho methods and on one occasion for holding his infant son too close to feeding crocodiles.
Australia Zoo was a pet project of the late wildlife presenter and still calls itself the “Home of the Crocodile Hunter” – his nickname. It offers an unusually hands-on experience with the website inviting visitors to “Cuddle a koala, hand-feed our kangaroos, walk with a Sumatran tiger and watch a crocodile launch from the water’s edge.” At a cost of 500 Australian dollars, the tiger walk is the most expensive of 24 “animal encounters” that can be purchased by members of the public.
In 2008, Bob Irwin resigned amid reports his daughter-in-law, Terri Irwin, was over-commercialising the zoo to the detriment of animal welfare and conservation.
Read the full story in this week’s issue of Radio Times