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By Anna Louw
The terrified parents of a five-year-old girl put up a fierce struggle to wrench their daughter from the grasp of a young lion after it sunk its claws into her right cheek at a private game lodge near Kroonstad in the Free State.
Paul Nel of medical service Netcare 911 said Lee-Anne Baird's parents, Charles and Adri Baird of Vanderbijlpark, had taken their two young children to the Boskoppie Lodge on Saturday to visit a breeding centre for lions.
Nel said the family were standing at a gate which leads to an enclosure where the lions are fed when the attack occurred.
A young lion managed to thrust its right paw through a gap in the gate. It sank its claws into Lee-Anne's right cheek and attempted to pull her into the enclosure.
Lee-Anne's mother tried to pull her daughter away from the lion, but it held on to the child and tried to grab the mother with its left paw, leaving deep scratches on her arm.
After a struggle the parents eventually managed to pull the stricken child from the lion's claws.
Lee-Anne's father pressed her face against his T-shirt to try to stop the blood gushing from her face.
Still holding the child he ran to the reception desk, from where he telephoned an ambulance, but then decided to take his daughter to the hospital in Kroonstad by car.
Outside the town he met the medical crew and the ambulance.
The injured child was transferred into the emergency vehicle.
Nel said hospital surgeons performed an emergency operation to reconstruct Lee-Anne's face. Her mother received medical treatment for the scratch and her father received stitches for cuts.
Lee-Anne was discharged from the hospital on Sunday.
Charles Baird said he did not blame the lion for the attack, saying the family had been standing too close to the enclosure.