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19 July 2011

'Tame' Bengal tiger turns on 5-year-old


Claire Holden sits with her 5-year-old son Finlay in the St Vincent private hospital in in Bela-Bela - private hospital after he was attacked at the weekend by a "tame" Bengal tiger. (Beeld)

Marietie Louw-Carstens, Beeld

Bela-Bela - The fearless actions of his mother and a passing tourist probably saved Finlay Holden, 5, from being mauled by a six-month-old Bengal tiger that got hold of him at the Zebula Golf Estate and Spa, about 50km outside Bela-Bela in Limpopo.

His mother, Claire Holden, said she, her 3-year-old daughter Hannah and Finlay went to look at the two tame tigers at the estate’s club house on Saturday morning while their father played golf.

Zebula’s website advertises that visitors can touch the Bengal tigers, Reno and Paris, and pose for photos with them. “I told Finlay he must be careful because all animals remain a bit wild,” said Holden.

As Finlay stroked the back of one of the tigers it suddenly turned around and grabbed the boy's head between its paws.

"The animal's mouth was wide open over his head," said Holden. While Finlay yelled hysterically, “Mom, make it stop! Make it stop!", she tried to pull the growling tiger off her son with her bare hands.

Jeff Cawood of Pretoria, who had photographed the tigers minutes earlier, rushed to Finlay’s rescue.

His wife, Ronell, told how Jeff dug his thumbs into the tiger’s throat "so that it had to let go". Cawood suffered a scratch on one hand.
Zebula staff reportedly chased the two young tigers off with their two-way radios.

Holden said: "My child and I were covered in blood. My little daughter saw everything." She was upset because there were no medical personnel on site.

She said Zebula advised her to take Finlay to Bela-Bela herself, but she was too shocked to drive and an ambulance was called. Finlay has since been discharged.

Hayley Poole, member of the management team at Zebula, declined to comment.

- Beeld/News24