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February 10, 2003

Gran `felt no pain' as lion ate arm

From: icWales, UK - 10 Feb 2003

Robin Turner Robin.Turner@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales

THE Welsh woman whose arm was savaged by a lion said yesterday she had forgiven the animal for its attack.

And animal lover Anne Richards, 54, added that even when lioness Marta was biting into her arm she realised what it was doing was instinctive.

She said, "I didn't feel hatred". News that grandmother Mrs Richards bore no anger to the animal that has changed her life came as no surprise to her neighbours in Neath yesterday.

For just 18 months ago Mrs Richards braved thick smoke and flames to rescue a neighbour's pet dog from a fire.

A neighbour said, "She didn't think of herself... she was just thinking of the dog."

Speaking for the first time about her ordeal in Spain to The People newspaper, Mrs Richards was adamant the lion was only acting instinctively when it ripped her arm off.

She said she did not blame the creature even though it also ate an expensive diamond ring given to her by her husband as it swallowed her lower arm.

Despite the trauma of what happened, Mrs Richards has amazed nurses in Wales with her philosophical attitude and bravery, often singing, "Always look on the bright side of life" while in hospital.

The horrific incident happened 12 days ago when Mrs Richards visited a wild animal sanctuary during a winter break in the Spanish resort of Benidorm.

She says she can remember how it felt very clearly.

"I felt my fingers snap... strangely there was no pain.

"I was watching the lion chewing my hand but it felt like it was not my hand.

"I looked into the lion's eyes as it was making its way up my hand to my wrist.

"You could hear all the bones cracking. It looked horrific but I did not feel any pain."

Mrs Richards said when the arm finally came away she was relieved because it meant the animal no longer had a grip on her.

She was rushed to Villajoyosa Hospital and last week was flown back to Britain.

Yesterday she was in Morriston Hospital in Swansea where she has been having specialist treatment and was visited by her husband Jim.

The Spanish break was paid for by 60-year-old Mr Richards, a porter at the new Neath Port Talbot Hospital, after he had a pension bonus pay-out.

Now he wishes he had never thought of giving her the £400 trip.

He said, "It's the sorriest thing I have ever done."

Mrs Richards went on the ill-fated Spanish holiday with her sister Carol Jones, of Bryncoch.

Another of Mrs Richards's sisters Margaret Higgins said, "Anne's lost her arm but we have to be thankful it was not her life."

Mrs Richards ended speculation yesterday that she might have put her hand on the lion's head or even in its mouth before it pounced on her arm.

She said, "I'm not that daft". She explained that she rested her hand near a small feeding hole then the lion put its tongue on her fingers.

She said the saliva was "like glue" and when the lion retracted its tongue her arm went with it. Then it started chewing on her flesh.

Both Mrs Richards and her sister believed security was lax at the sanctuary for rescued animals in El Arca de Noe, Alicante.

And they each claimed they were given no security advice once they entered the animal complex.

Mrs Richards revealed that only single wire fences separated tourists from the animals.

And she added she witnessed a small boy place his hand on a leopard's head through a feeding hole to stroke it.

As well as lions, the sanctuary also has bears, tigers and dangerous snakes.

Mr and Mrs Richards have contacted their solicitor though it is not known if they are contemplating any legal action for compensation.

Mrs Richards's sister Carol who witnessed the incident said, "I could not understand why Anne was not crying.

"The wound looked horrific - stomach churning.

"But it did not seem to bother her. Grown men were screaming like women."

Neighbours of Mrs Richards in Meadow Road, Neath, said yesterday they expected her to be home from hospital this week.

One said, "Anne is very popular and it does not surprise me she is cheerful in hospital.

"She is not the sort of person to let anything get her down, even this."

It was in 2001 that animal lover Mrs Richards, who is 94% deaf and uses a hearing aid, rescued a pet dog from a serious fire at a neighbour's home. Even though she suffers from painful osteoporosis she dashed from her house when she was alerted by the sound of a dog barking.

One of her neighbours said yesterday, "She kicked in a back door to let the little thing out.

"There was a lot of smoke and a lot of flames. It was before the fire brigade got there so she felt she had to do something for the dog.

"It was very brave and typical of Anne."

Spanish authorities are currently investigating the level of safety measures at the animal sanctuary run by Serafin Domenech.

And Mrs Richards's forgiveness stretches to him too.

She said, "I felt sorry for him and still do... he clearly cares deeply for animals to have rescued them."

British consulate staff inter-viewed Mrs Richards as she lay in hospital in Alicante.

She had an emergency operation there to amputate her right arm four inches below the elbow.

She was airlifted back to Britain on a stretcher laid on the back of aircraft seats.

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