updated 12/9/2009 7:32:40 AM ET 2009-12-09T12:32:40

German police say a zookeeper is in critical condition after being attacked by three tigers.

Hamburg police said Wednesday that the 28-year-old animal handler at the private Hagenbeck Zoo tripped during a performance involving five tigers Tuesday night.

As he lay on the ground, three of the tigers descended upon him, clawing and biting him.

Bild newspaper reports the tigers were driven back into their cages with blasts of water and the man was rushed to a hospital for treatment.

Police say the wounds are considered life-threatening.

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