Thursday, March 20, 2008

Martial arts teacher knocked down by lion during a photo shoot

A martial arts teacher knocked over by a lion during a photo shoot at Bowmanville Zoo says she is happy to have come away with four broken ribs and a bloodied lung.

"To be honest, the sensation I have is a great deal of gratitude to be alive," Gitanjali Kolanad said yesterday.

The photo session organized by the Star-owned magazine Desi Life produced a successful cover photo for the March-April issue, to be published tomorrow. But from the beginning, the 180 kilogram beast proved playful and not entirely under the control of its two minders.

Kolanad, 54, practises the ancient Indian martial art of Kalaripayat, fashioned after the movements of such animals as the lion, elephant, wild boar and peacock. The magazine suggested she pose with a lion.

"I thought, 'Sure – Photoshop,'" Kolanad recalled. When she understood better, she was excited, she said, and an appointment was made with "Leo" for Feb. 20.

A video of the session shows the beast first knocking over editor Sonia Verma. She picks herself up and smiles. It next paws the legs of photographer Richard Lautens. Off-camera, it also took a swipe at the legs of art director Spencer Wynn.

"I felt it for a couple of days," he said.

The 3-year-old lion was lying nearby when Kolanad began her movements. Apparently still wanting to frolic, the animal jumped up and fell on her, knocking the wind out of her, bruising her left lung and breaking four left ribs.

It was not an attack, the witnesses said. The lion's mouth was not open and Kolanad was not scratched.

The Bowmanville Zoo had no comment on the incident.

In the video, one minder kicks the beast in the neck while the other pulls on a leash. The lion takes a second, unsuccessful lunge at Kolanad as she lies gasping, before it is escorted out the door.

"I couldn't breathe – that was the terrifying part. The muscles in my chest seized up and they didn't relax until I was in the emergency (of the Bowmanville hospital) and they gave me a muscle relaxant."

Although unable to work for the past month and still in pain, Kolanad said she feels on the mend.

Video captures lion's playful lunge onto subject in photo shoot

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