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MGM defends safety practices after lion attack caught on tape

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Crowd gasps as lion attacks trainer
  • A trainer was bitten in the leg by a lion at the MGM Grand exhibit
  • He was treated and released from the hospital, MGM says
  • The resort company is defending safety measures at the popular attraction

(CNN) -- MGM Resorts defended its safety practices Wednesday after amateur video surfaced showing a lion attacking its trainer inside its habitat at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, as horrified visitors to the hotel looked on.

The trainer was treated and released from the hospital after the incident earlier this month, MGM Resorts spokesman Gordon Absher said in a statement Wednesday.

The video shows two trainers along with a lion and a lioness inside the habitat -- a popular attraction at the hotel that opened more than 13 years ago.

At first, the lions appear relaxed, lying down as the trainers stand nearby. The male lion then shifts his body weight and looks at the trainer nearest to him before the camera turns its focus to the other lion and second trainer.

Video: When lions attack
  • Big Cats
  • Las Vegas

Gasps are then heard from onlookers and the video reveals the male lion wrestling with the trainer closest to him. With help from the other trainer, the man gets away, even as the lion appears to continue to stalk him.

Dave Salmoni, a big cat expert for Animal Planet, told CNN's "Rick's List" on Wednesday that the lion appeared to try to show his dominance over the trainer after the man "stiffened" when the animal turned his gaze on him.

"What that tells the lion is: that guy's nervous," Salmoni said, adding that the lion interprets that nervousness into a need to dominate.

"He went over and was doing what I would consider to be like a teenager testing his boundaries," he said of the lion. "He went in and said, 'I know I'm not allowed to bite people but I'm going to bite you and see what you can do back to me.'"

"It was definitely him saying, 'I'm the boss here,'" added Salmoni, who survived a similar attack by a lion.

MGM's Absher defended the lion habitat in his statement Wednesday, saying the handlers "uphold the highest safety standards at all times."

The lions are provided to the hotel by Keith Evans, a contracted animal expert, and live at an off-site "desert compound," according to Absher.

"The animals are displayed on rotating shifts at the habitat, just one day per week," he said.

"Incidents where animal handlers are bitten are very rare," Absher said, adding that the trainer "is in good health and anxious to return to work."