By Michael MacLeod
A TEENAGE gap year student says she feels lucky to be alive after being mauled by a lion while working abroad as a tour guide.
Lisa Baxter, 19, was working at a safari park in New Zealand when Timba, an African White Lion, sunk his teeth into both her hands.
But the animal-lover knew that if she screamed out, she might wake the rest of the pack and she’d have no chance of survival.
So she calmly patted the lion’s nose and freed herself before calling for help from colleagues.
And although Lisa had to cut her trip short to come home and recover, she insists she is glad she lived to tell the tale.
Speaking from her home in Gullane, Lisa recalls: “I was giving a talk to a group of tourists and stroking Timba’s nose when he just grabbed my hand.
“His teeth were razor sharp and went straight through my skin.
“I knew not to panic, so tapped his nose to get him to back off, but he bit that hand as well. Luckily the second time his teeth didn’t stay in my hand for too long.”
Timba was one of a family of five lions in the enclosure, and the attack on Lisa could have been much worse if the others had gotten involved.
She said: “If the others in the pack weren’t all sleeping I might not have made it home to tell the story, so thank god they all stayed asleep.”
But although she will now be scarred for life, she says she doesn’t blame the one-and-a-half-year-old cat.
She said: “I know he was only playing and totally blame myself for what happened.
“I really don’t think he was trying to rip me apart or be violent at all, if anything he thought we were playing, because he’s only 18 months old.
“But even at that age lions are still huge, and I felt like screaming. But if I had I’m sure they all would have come over.”
Because Lisa stayed so quiet throughout the attack, the tour group she was guiding were none the wiser until a colleague came to assist her and they saw the blood.
The animal biology student was whisked off to hospital where she underwent emergency surgery.
Doctors gave her 13 stitches but the wounds were so wide that the medics wouldn’t discharge her for another four days and kept her on continuous antibiotics.
She said: “My hands were so swollen I thought they were going to explode. It really wasn’t nice.”
Despite her ordeal, Lisa says nothing can put her off her ambition of becoming an animal handler.
She said: “I still really want to go out to Africa or South America to work with more big cats.
“Animals are my passion. I’m not scared at all, whether it’s hugging a bear or stroking lions, nothing phases me.”
Already Lisa has volunteered at Deep Sea World the SSPCA and Edinburgh Zoo where she handled snakes.
As well as being fearless, she admits to being “overly glamorous” when working with animals.
She said: “I don’t mind picking up animal poo or getting muddy, as long as I’ve got my make up on.
“I’m not girly or squeamish, I’ll do anything as long as I look nice for the pictures.
“Handling animals is something I’ve always been naturally good at, and I’d happily go meet Timba again, he’s a lovely wee thing.”