JANET Coghlan was just 12-years-old when, while visiting a zoo, she was pounced on by an escaped tiger.
The Sheffield businesswoman was mauled so badly across her head, neck and upper body, her cheek and mouth were left hanging from her face, while one eye was partially gouged out.
But 33 years later Janet is proving she hasn’t held a grudge by setting up a venture aimed at protecting the animal from extinction.
The attack, in August 1978, was so severe the youngster needed 250 stitches and extensive plastic surgery. Paramedics who treated her later confessed they feared the worst, and even today facial scars are visible.
“It felt,” she recalls, “a bit like being hit by a bus.
“She rose up on two legs and then came down on me with such immense power. I was screaming but people couldn’t get her off, and all the time she was clawing at me.”
It is a horrifying tale which you might think would put Janet, of Main Road, Ridgeway, off big cats for life.
Yet this week the 45-year-old owner of Coghlan’s Cookery School, based in Sheepbridge, Chesterfield, has launched a nationwide chocolate range from which she will donate a percentage of all profits to the fight to protect the animal.
Twenty-five pence from every box or bag of the Tiger J confectionary will go to the Born Free Foundation – an organisation which supports endangered species.
“Maybe this is a kind of atonement,” says Janet. “After the incident, Meena – that was the tiger’s name – was destroyed, and I never wanted that to happen.
“I asked them to let her live but they didn’t. It was so sad, she was only playing. She spent all day in this tiny enclosure, no bigger than a swimming pool, and that wasn’t right, really.”
It might have been more than three decades ago but Janet says she recalls the incident like it was yesterday.
The youngster was helping out doing odd jobs at Seaburn Zoo where her love of wildlife had seen her become a regular visitor.
The tiger warden – in a scene that would horrify the health and safety conscious 21st century – asked her to hold the pen door while he exercised Meena on a rope.
But the 10-month-old cub – already considerably larger than a Great Dane – escaped from the leash.
“I’m not sure exactly how it happened but Meena was suddenly all over me,” says Janet. “They eventually got her off but I was a mess. It’s funny because when you’re that age you don’t realise how serious an incident like that is - but as I’ve got older I’ve thought about it more, and it has had an impact on me – it did affect me more than I realised.”
Indeed, it is the increasing thought she has given to the incident which has led to Tiger J.
“The range is a business venture,” she says. “But I’ve always wanted to do something to help tigers and this seemed a good way of combining my work with a little bit of philanthropy.”