A handler who was bitten by a tiger he had raised since it was a cub is recovering in a Brisbane hospital surrounded by friends and family.

A tiger that bit its handler wasn’t acting out of aggression and won’t be removed from Australia Zoo.

The tiger was playing in front of an audience, when it became over excited and bit trainer of nine years Dave Styles, who had raised it since it was a cub.

The beast raised itself on two legs and dragged Mr Styles into the pool just after the daily show at the Sunshine Coast zoo, onlookers say.

While in the water, Mr Styles was bitten on the neck and shoulder with puncture wounds near vital blood vessels.

Medics were helicoptered in and Mr Styles, 30, was flown to the Royal Brisbane Hospital in a stable condition.

He’s surrounded by friends and family and his condition has improved.

English backpacker Dan Bass saw the horror unfold.

“Shock, absolute shock, screaming,” Mr Bass told ABC radio.

“The keepers did really well to keep them away from the glass.”

Despite the incident, the tiger will remain at the zoo.

“It wasn’t an act of aggression,” Australia Zoo director Wes Mennon told ABC radio.

“It wasn’t a tiger attacking someone.

“It’s just normal part of the daily routine of the tigers and unfortunately we had a mishap.”

Australia Zoo, owned by the late Steve Irwin’s family, and workplace health and safety are investigating.

The zoo keeps three Bengal and eight Sumatran tigers, but it won’t say what animal was responsible.

Visitors can have their photos taken with the tigers each day, but the tourist attraction comes with a warning: “please remember big cats are predatory animals and are quite capable of exercising their natural instincts”.

Animal rights group PETA says the zoo should be penalised for allowing employees to risk their lives.

“If his employer had followed standard industry practice and required that protective barriers always be kept between potentially dangerous animals and humans … the trainer would never have been attacked,” PETA said in a statement.