How a Halesowen woman's dream to play with lions almost turned to tragedy

Be careful what you wish for, so they say.

Horror as Suki turns nasty.
Horror as Suki turns nasty.

When Mrs Barbara Carter of Halesowen won a local "grant-a-wish" competition she said she wanted to play with lions.

Her prize delivered in full – and resulted in some of the most dramatic pictures we have ever published.

We'd like to say that no humans were harmed in the process, but that would not be quite true as the 46-year-old was grabbed by the throat and needed a spell in hospital, but happily was not seriously hurt.

The incident on Wednesday, May 5, 1976, naturally made headlines, especially as our photographer Frank Rogers had been invited along to West Midland Safari Park at Bewdley to record Mrs Carter fulfilling her dream.

Mrs Carter, from Blackberry Lane, had won the experience in a grant-a-wish competition run by Halesowen Round Table and before going into the lions' compound joked: "I work as a clerk and have made up the wages just in case anything goes wrong."

Things seemed to be going fine when chief game warden Bob Lawrence called Suki and Suzi, two 15-month-old lionesses he had hand reared. Suzi rubbed herself against Mrs Carter but then both lost interest and turned their attention to Mr Lawrence, rolling over playfully and rubbing their heads against his legs.

Suki returned to Mrs Carter, stood on her hind legs and put her front paws on her shoulders, and at first it looked as though she was going to lick her face, but instead suddenly sank her teeth into Mrs Carter's neck.

Moment of horror as Suki turns nasty.

She collapsed with Suki on top of her, and Mr Lawrence forced the lioness to release her. Other wardens with sticks pushed Suki away.

Bob Lawrence wrestled the lioness clear.

A shaken Mrs Carter was left bleeding heavily and was taken by ambulance to Kidderminster General Hospital where for a time she was unable to speak because of a throat wound.

A bleeding and shaken Mrs Carter crawls away.

Mr Lawrence said later: "I have never known anything like this happen. It must have been Mrs Carter's perfume that the lionesses didn't like. I never thought for one moment that there would be any trouble when she stepped out of the Jeep.

"These lionesses have always been friendly. They have appeared on television playing with children."

Safari park manager Johnny Youdal said: "It seems we made a bad error of judgment. Nothing like this will be allowed to happen again."

Visited in hospital by her husband Alan and Mr Lawrence, Mrs Carter said she was embarrassed by the whole incident and was worried in case the park staff were blamed. She had thought that when the lioness attacked that she was going to die, and praised Mr Lawrence for saving her life.

Recovering in hospital – and still a lions' fan.

The safari park sent her a bouquet of flowers and gave her life membership.

Mrs Carter made it clear that she would not be going near any big lions in future, but did have another wish – she wanted a lion club to hold in hospital while she recovered from her wounds.

"We won't take one to hospital, but may be able to arrange something when she gets out," Mr Youdal said.

Mrs Carter did get to have another close encounter, this time without any drama, as not too long afterwards she visited a farm in Stratford-upon-Avon to meet two lion cubs kept there as pets.

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