'Spunky' alligator dragged handler into its enclosure during child's birthday party in US

The alligator yanked the staff member at Scales & Tails Utah into its enclosure during a presentation.

A visitor to a reptile centre in Utah jumped in to "save the life" of an animal handler after she was attacked by an alligator during a child's fifth birthday party.

The employee came close to losing a hand after the close encounter as shocked guests, including young children, looked on in horror.

The animal handler had been talking to a group of adults and children about the eight-foot creature, named Darth Gator, at Scales & Tales in Salt Lake City in the US on Sunday.

The shocking footage, taken by one of the guests, shows the alligator clamping onto the woman’s hand as it bit her and dragged her into the water.

The alligator Darth then thrashes her around before a quick-thinking visitor leapt inside and helped free her from its jaws.

The guest, Donnie Wiseman, shouted: "Hey, we’ve got trouble in here," before climbing on top of the reptile.

The employee then tried to usher it back away from the enclosure’s entrance.

The entrance of Scales and Tails Utah Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP

Mr Wiseman pinned the alligator down and the handler calmly gave him and another man, Todd Christopher, instructions to help her escape from the pool.

He stayed on top of the reptile until after the woman was free.

Shane Richins, the company’s owner, said in an interview the handler was opening the enclosure to feed the alligator as usual, but this time the reptile "got a little extra spunky".

He said the centre normally has a strict policy for a second handler to be nearby when employees are working with the alligators.

But that has not been enforced in recent years if the worker is not planning to enter the enclosure, he said.

"We still enforce it strictly whenever somebody gets in with the gator but, of course, going forward, we will be back to strictly enforcing it with any interactions with the gator for that very reason," Mr Richins said.

Mr Richins said the handler underwent surgery and is taking antibiotics.

The West Valley City business said she is “doing well and is in recovery”.

According to its website, Scales & Tails Utah is a family-run operation which provides educational presentations on reptiles, birds, spiders and scorpions.

It hailed the visitors who rushed to the handler’s aid.

"These gentlemen could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would, but instead jumped into the situation, of their own volition, and helped secure the alligator,” the company said in a statement.

"Their help, combined with the training of our staff member, probably saved her life and her limbs."