A zookeeper in Russia is fighting for her life after she was nearly mauled to death by a Siberian tiger.

The big cat, called Typhoon, is reported to have sprung onto the keeper after the cage was left open while she was preparing food.

She was saved when onlookers at the Kaliningrad zoo started shouting and throwing stones at the tiger which eventually backed away.

The Mail reported that some of the zoo visitors even started throwing cafe chairs into the enclosure to stop the animal from launching another attack.

Although badly injured, the woman is expected to survive.

The tiger, the largest cat in the world, was meant to be in a separate enclosure while the food was being prepared.

A zoo official said in a statement that "the animal entered the enclosure when the keeper was there and the tiger attacked the human."

Zoo staff, slow to the scene, later shot the tiger with a sedative.

The tiger was born on the 1 July 2001 in Chelyabinsk Zoo and was later moved to Kaliningrad Zoo.

The 16-year-old as already surpassed the average life expectancy for similar cats which is 15.

Before today, the tiger had never attacked a human before. A full investigation is expected to take place.