Roy Horn astonished audiences with his white tiger act for nearly 40 years without injury. Now, one animal expert says it's hard to determine exactly why one suddenly turned on the entertainer, critically injuring him Friday night.
Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, has worked with tigers for many years.
He says it's possible the nearly deadly incident was not a direct act of aggression by the animal, adding that Horn would not likely have survived a purposeful attack from the animal.
"I have seen a Bengal tiger that size take down a water buffalo in less than 30 seconds, and break his neck," Hanna said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "If he had done that, it would have been over with," he said.
Routine Act Gets Out of Control
After Horn brought 7-year-old Montecore — a white tiger who has appeared in the show since he was 6 months old — on stage Friday night, he told the tiger to lie down.
Montecore didn't listen to Horn's instructions this time. Instead, he grabbed Horn's arm in his mouth. Horn struck Montecore with his microphone, trying to get him to loosen his grip.
Montecore then grabbed Horn by his throat, dragging him backstage where handlers subdued the tiger by spraying him with a fire extinguisher.
As Horn was being transported to the hospital Friday, he made it clear that he wanted his tiger to be protected. He did not want to see the animal put down.
Horn remained in critical but stable condition today.
In an interview with ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer a few years back, Horn said he had a bond with his animals that allowed him to perform his astonishing acts.
"Being there in, in every need of any moment," Horn said. "Like when they are born, they are basically born with me being there. The first voice they hear is mine. The first face they see is mine. So, most probably they think I am a tiger," he said.
Tiger Seemed Distracted
Bernie Yuman, Horn's longtime friend and manager, said it seemed as it Montecore had been distracted by something in the audience at the Mirage hotel-casino that night.
"I believe that's the case, that Montecore saw something that was unusual and Roy heroically, from my perception, got in front of him and started to nudge him and that really put Roy on the other side of Montecore and it kind of turned Montecore around and they both became disoriented. It was an unfortunate circumstance," Yuman said.
Hanna said he believes Yurman's theory makes sense.
"I wasn't there, but as I stated before, what it sounded like to me is the cat did something that Roy was uneasy with. You have to understand, this cat now is pretty comfortable. I'm not a trainer, but they can actually feel and sense an animal. Like a zookeeper in a zoo. You can feel when something is going wrong," Hanna said.
Hanna says that despite the perception that animals in the wild crave the taste of human blood once they've had it, tigers that have lived in zoos, or with their trainers for years, don't have the same desire.
"That's true if you get into Nepal and India, they have man-eating tigers," Hanna, a regular guest on GMA, said today. "But not this situation, this animal today probably wouldn't even remember what happened several nights ago."
Hanna said a separate tiger attack last week, on a New York City man who is accused of illegally housing the animal in his tiny apartment, can't be compared to the Horn incident.
"That guy was dealing with a loaded gun in his apartment. I guarantee you, something was bound to happen with this animal," Hanna said.
A Long-Time Love
Horn has been entertaining people with his animal act since 1966.
Horn and longtime stage partner Siegfried Fischbacher have collected 63 rare white tigers and white lions over the years.
Horn's love of animals dates back to postwar Germany. Horn fell in love with an animal his father brought home for him. The half dog, half wolf named Hexe spent every day with young Horn.
Horn first met his partner, Fischbacher, on a cruise ship where he was working as a bellboy.
Fishbacher, a young magician, was working as one of the ship's entertainers.
The two first played Las Vegas in 1966. In 1990, the two signed a contract for $57.5 million to perform in a Mirage theater.
Montecore continues to be quarantined at the hotel, officials said. The show has been closed indefinitely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report