The disfigured model whose face was torn apart by a leopard during a photoshoot has paid the big cat a visit as “part of her therapy”.
Model Jessica Leidolph, 36, who also worked as an animal rights activist and a physiotherapist, was critically injured after 16-year-old leopard Troja attacked her out of nowhere during a photoshoot that took place in a retirement home for show animals in the German city of Nebra.
And now as part of her therapy on the path to recovery, she said: “I made a conscious decision to take this step.”
She added: “That I’m standing here today is part of my therapy, which should help me to come to terms with the accident. Fortunately, my face is healing well.”
However, things aren’t all rosy for the facility housing the leopard, with its owner Birgit Stache telling German daily Bild that donations have dropped off since the attack.
She said “we are attacked, there are no food donations”, adding: “I have respect and don’t blame Troy.”
The 36-year-old model from the German state of Thuringia underwent surgery after she was taken to the nearest hospital with a helicopter on Tuesday (24th August), and it has now been revealed she will have to carry the attack scars forever.
According to local media, Jessica entered the leopards’ enclosure at the ‘Seniorenresidenz fur Showtiere’ (retirement home for show animals) when 16-year-old leopard Troja suddenly attacked her.
Troja and another leopard living in the enclosure named Paris, 18, had once graced TV screens in an advert for multinational electronics giant Panasonic before they were moved to the 850-square-metre (9,150-sq-ft) retirement home in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The approximately 135 animals residing in the facility were mostly booked for photoshoots by interested individuals and companies, which is how the victim found herself there when the animal bit her in the face.
Jessica, who was brought to the hospital with severely bleeding wounds and was immediately operated on, told Bild after the surgery: “It repeatedly kept biting my cheek, ear and head.”
She reported that after she lost consciousness, the next thing she heard was the helicopter that airlifted her to the hospital.
However, instead of holding grudges, Jessica, who will reportedly have to carry the attack scars forever, has now begged the authorities to not put the cat down by saying: “I don’t want the animal to be killed, it just followed its instincts.”
Jessica recalled the grievous moment when Troja rushed towards her.
The 36-year-old woman 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 into 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 later the ambulance and the 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 lbs) 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 uses the money she earns from the calendars she makes to help them find 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.”
Meanwhile, the police 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 a 20-year-long experience and holding a license to keep the animals, Stache was issued a security law order by the district authorities, according to which she is forbidden to let “unauthorised third parties” inside the facility.
Authorities indicated 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.”
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