WHEN Lauren Fagen landed a volunteering job at a wild animal sanctuary in South Africa it seemed like the chance of a lifetime.

Lauren had always wanted to get up close to some of the world’s most dangerous and elusive animals.

Within hours of arriving at the Moholoholo rehab centre in the Limpopo province – home to lions, leopards, antelope, elephants and giraffes – Lauren was allowed to put her hand near a cheetah, allowing it to lick her.

The student was equally as thrilled when she was given a chance to clean out the cages of two young lions, Duma and Tree.

But her joy turned to terror after both big cats launched a surprise attack when Duma reached through bars of his cage, dragging her legs through the open gap.

Lauren, of Quebec, Canada, was saved only by the quick-thinking actions of fellow volunteer, British vet Natalie Bennett, who tried to fight off the lions with a broom.

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Now Lauren is telling the full story of the July 2013 attack in a new book called Bite Club, which features survivors of predator attacks, including sharks.

She told author Dougie Wight how she was working alone cleaning the feeding cage which was next to the lion’s main enclosure when the attack happened.

She said: “Duma stuck his entire leg through the bars, nearly the full length of it because of how far I was away.

“Before I could react he got me with the tip of his nail into the middle of my right calf.

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“It was like butter, it went right in. I felt a thud – he had pulled me on to my back, I hit the ground and was looking up at the ceiling.

“ I could see my full leg in his paws. He was almost stabilising me with his paws.

“I was wearing grey sweatpants and he sliced through them, like craft scissors through a card. 

“He sliced open my leg. It looked like what you would see at the butcher, like something from a dead cow that would hang from the ceiling. I thought, That can’t be my leg because that’s not what … wait, it is my leg. 

“I started to scream for help and kicked with my other leg but he immediately pulled that one through the bars up to the groin. 

“I was now on my back looking at him. He was not looking at me but both my legs were pinned through the bars. He had my right leg in his mouth.

“I saw him go right through the knee like a blade, though both legs remained attached.”

Within seconds Duma’s female mate Tree had joined in the mauling, gnawing at Lauren’s feet.

As other volunteers heard Lauren screaming they ran into the enclosure, including Brit Natalie Bennett, then 24, who tried to fight off the lions with a broom.

After two frantic minutes, the lions released Lauren and vet Natalie, of Carshalton, Surrey, tended to her gaping wounds.

Natalie said at the time: “It was the lioness we were worried about because they are the killers.

“We tried to distract the animals by thundering on cages to try and scare them away and we got brooms and brushes to try and get them off her.

“The male was hand reared by the student coordinator so all he had to do was say no and Duma would back off, but because there was blood, you can’t really expect them to differentiate between meat you are providing to them and not.

“Both Lauren’s knees were injured and she had puncture wounds in her calf and huge gouges out of her thigh.”

Lauren said: “Essentially, my left kneecap nearly came completely off and was hanging by a piece of skin. 

“Doctors were able to put that back on like a sticker. There were multiple stab wounds … 

“I had muscle and nerve damage and actually caused quite a bit of damage to my anterior cruciate ligament myself, when I was trying to get my leg out between the bars. I could’ve been a lot worse.”

It was initially reported that Lauren had been attacked after trying to kiss one of the lions but she denies it was the case.

After being traumatised by the mauling, she joined Bite Club, a support group made up of victims of killer predator attacks.

It is run by surfer Dave Pearson, 59, who set up the club after being savaged by a three-metre bull shark off the coast of New South Wales, Australia.

In 2019, Lauren went to Australia to meet Dave and other survivors.

She said: “My mum came with me and we spent Christmas there. I got to meet a ton of people and learned how to surf.

“Bite Club has made the experience a lot less spectacular in the sense that I can tell my story and people’s eyes don’t widen the same way.”

Bite Club: Real-life attacks by sharks and other killer predators by Douglas Wight is published by Ad Lib and available now

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