The model who had her face ripped to shreds by a leopard has opened up about her ordeal and said “if the leopard had caught my carotid artery, it would have been all over”.
Model Jessica Leidolph, 36, also begged the authorities not to put down the leopard, Troja, 16, after it savaged her face during an erotic photoshoot, ironically for a fundraising calendar to support unwanted animals.
The model told German daily Bild that “if the leopard had caught my carotid artery, it would have been over.”
After the incident, she reportedly spent two weeks in a clinic and now has three metal plates in the right side of her face from the operation. Her eye is also swollen and her body is covered in wounds.
She said: “I can’t put any weight on my left arm. The swollen half of my face feels like after a dental operation. I am plasticising with chopsticks so that I can eat properly again.”
But Jessica added: “When it happened, I thought: It’s over now. I know I was very lucky that I am still alive at all.”
She also said that the owner had given her safety briefing and that the leopard was on a double lead.
The model, who regularly published erotic calendars where she posed with animals, experienced the worst minutes of her life when Troja attacked her out of nowhere during a photoshoot in a retirement home for show animals in the German city of Nebra.
Jessica told Bild the incident happened while she was sitting on a tree trunk, adding: “I felt a blow on my back. It happened incredibly quickly.”
After the animal’s repeated bites on her face, which led to severe bleeding, the 36-year-old model from the German state of Thuringia was airlifted to hospital in the city of Halle.
However, instead of holding grudges, Jessica, who will reportedly have to carry the attack scars forever, begged the authorities not to put the big cat down, saying: “I don’t want the animal to be killed, it just followed its instincts.
“It was unfortunate. I am glad there was no request to euthanise the animal.”
Jessica recalled the grievous moment when Troja, who once graced plasma screens in an advert for multinational electronics giant Panasonic, rushed towards her.
The 36-year-old model had previously told Bild: “He attacked me, I couldn’t look that fast. I was sitting by the tree trunk and all of a sudden I was lying on the ground. He bit into my cheek, ear, head, and then again and again on my head.”
She continued: “And then I screamed, put my hands in front of my face. At some point, he let go of me for a moment so that I could roll away and get out of the cage. A little while later, the ambulance and helicopter were there.”
Nevertheless, Jessica who worked as an animal rights activist and a physiotherapist prior to the incident, revealed that she does not blame the 50-kilogramme (110-lb) leopard or its owner Birgit Stache, 48, for what happened.
She said: “The leopard was secured twice by its owner.”
Jessica has been taking care of orphaned and sick animals for 16 years in her apartment in the town of Eisenberg, where she nurses swans, owls, fox cubs and hedgehogs, which she later poses with and she uses the money she earns from the calendars she makes to help find them a proper home.
The woman added: “I wanted to stand up for these wild animals, to draw attention to the fact that there are hardly any accommodation options for them once they have had their day. Nobody takes animals like that.”
The police also started an investigation to determine who else was present at the photoshoot and what safety precautions were in place.
A police spokesperson said: “So far, there has not been a reason, from a structural or veterinary perspective, to take action against the retirement home for show animals.”
Despite having 20 years’ experience and holding a legal licence to keep the animals, Stache, the owner, was issued a security law order by the district authorities, according to which she is forbidden to let “unauthorised third parties” inside the facility.
The authorities said that Jessica “was only injured because she was inside the cage”.
Pro Wildlife animal rights activist Katharina Lameter, 29, urged officials to “immediately give the leopard away to a specialised rescue centre”.
The investigation continues.