By Aislinn Laing, Johannesburg
4:21PM BST 19 Jul 2011
A five year-old boy is recovering in hospital after he was mauled by an apparently tame tiger cub at a holiday resort in South Africa.
Finlay Holden was stroking the six-month old Bengali tiger's back when it turned around and grabbed his head between its paws.
The little boy was only saved after other holidaymakers and resort staff throttled the growling animal and hit it over the head repeatedly with a walkie-talkie.
His mother, Claire Holden, told how Finlay had screamed hysterically "Mum, make it stop! Make it stop!" as they fought to save him.
"The whole thing was just awful," she said. "There were all these people pulling at the tiger and it wouldn't let go. All I could do was wrap my arms around Finlay and try to keep him calm."
She said that she, her daughter Hannah, three, and Finlay had gone to look at Reno and Paris, the resort's two tigers, on Saturday morning. Also on the lawn with the resort's handlers was a boa constrictor.
"I told Finlay he must be careful and not make any sudden movements because all animals remain a bit wild," she said.
The website of the Zebula Golf Estate and Spa, which is situated in South Africa's northern Limpopo province, says that visits can touch and pose for photographs with the big cats.
"Even though they are cubs, you can come and witness their beauty, grace and can see the power of these incredible felines," it boasts.
In Finlay's case, the description was all too apt.
"The animal's mouth was wide open above his head," Mrs Holden said. "My child and I were covered in blood. My little daughter saw everything."
Finlay was left with deep cuts to his face, neck and throat and underwent surgery on Sunday. "He's doing remarkably well considering," Mrs Holden said. "We were lucky really – his jugular could easily have been torn or he could have been scalped."
She said the resort should now reconsider letting big cats play with children. "I don't blame the tiger and don't think it should be put down but they shouldn't be doing what they are doing and if they are going to continue, it needs to be with significantly smaller cubs."
Brenda Santon, Wildlife Manager for South Africa's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it had repeatedly warned about the dangers of letting humans play with wild animals. "These poor animals belong in the wild and not in holiday resorts," she said.
Zebula Golf Estate and Spa has declined to comment.