Ettore Weber, 61, was mauled to death about 7.30pm last night at the Circo Orfei — Italy’s best-known circus.

Weber had been rehearsing for his act when one of the tigers knocked him down before the other three pounced on him and began savaging him.

The tigers then “played” with his body for about 30 minutes in front of stunned medics, who were unable to help, La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno reported.

Weber’s fellow performers also tried to drive the tigers away but to no avail, according to Corriere. According to the same publication, the beasts did not give him a chance to escape and “tore him to pieces.” It was over in minutes.

Medics say that Weber suffered serious injuries, including severe trauma to the spine.

Police were called and have launched an investigation to try to recreate the events leading up to the attack.

According to colleagues from the online edition of La Repubblica, the police are trying to figure out if the circus in question was equipped with all the necessary authorisations concerning the transport and custody of dangerous animals.

The eight tigers present were seized and temporarily transferred to the Zoo Safari in Fasano.

It is not clear what will become of the tigers now that their trainer is dead.

The attack happened around an hour before Thursday’s show was due to take place.

Circo Orfei had arrived in Bari on June 15 and was due to stay until July 14. It is 

unclear whether that run will continue.


Weber was known in the circus world as one of the best cat trainers in the world. He had dedicated much of life to training the big cats who eventually took his.

He was married to Loredana Vulcanelli, another artist, and together they owned Weber Circus.


The tragedy has fuelled calls for a ban on the use of animals in circuses, as parliament debates the issue. According to a study published in 2017 by the Italian Censis Foundation think tank, Italy is one of the few European states not to limit the use of animals in circuses.

Italy’s parliament voted to phase out animal circus acts in November 2017, with a requirement that new legislation be outlined within a year. Campaign group Animal Defenders International hailed the move as “a major breakthrough” for animal rights.


The Corriere della Sera asked Roberto Marchesini, an expert in the study of animal behaviour: “Perhaps the trainer had an abrupt movement, or he asked for something that went beyond their possibilities. Or he simply distracted himself for a moment. When a tiger attacks, the others follow it by osmosis. And at that point, in front of not one but several tigers together, a trainer alone has no chance.”

It is customary to think that the tigers, once they have tasted human blood, are no longer able to “go back”. And Marchesini partially admits: “These four tigers will remember the attack and associate it with the gratification of having done something that is part of their instinct: in the future it would be better to separate them and not let them exhibit together anymore.”