Scott Baldwin: 'Lion bite almost cost me my hand...and my career'
Scott Baldwin has revealed he came within millimetres of suffering career-ending injuries after being bitten on the hand by a lion he tried to pet at a safari park.
The incident occurred in Bloemfontein last month, a few days before Ospreys’ Guinness Pro 14 clash with the Cheetahs. The 29-year-old, who had joined team-mates on a tour of the park, was stroking the animal’s head through a fence when it clamped its jaws around his left hand.
A video of the incident, which has had more than 83,000 views on YouTube, shows Baldwin yelling in pain before the lion drops his arm and he is able to retreat to safety.
He was left with grisly wounds, which he revealed in posts on his Twitter account on Sunday but – incredibly – the bite avoided all the tendons and ligaments in his hand. Otherwise it could have cost Baldwin his career.
Four operations later, and having made his first appearance since the incident as a replacement in his side’s 36-34 Champions Cup defeat at Allianz Park, Baldwin has spoken publicly about the incident for the first time.
“I had to have four operations and, at one stage, was told I would need plastic surgery and could lose my left hand,” he said. “I think it only hit me how lucky I was when I was in bed the other night. When someone says you can lose your hand, instantly your career is gone.
“I’m a new father, so it made me think about all the things I might not have been able to do with my son and how I might have been able to earn a living without my dominant hand – all those things went through my head.
“That really put things into perspective for me and made me realise how very lucky I was. When you see the video it looks very quick, but for me it felt like a lifetime, it felt as though I was staring into its soul.
“Thankfully, Clarkey [Allen Clarke, Ospreys forwards coach] grabbed me around the waist and the lion let go. Clarkey was telling me that my hand was still attached and that everything was going to be OK.
“The surgeon said it was one of the most incredible things because the bite went straight through my hand, but it didn’t hit any tendons or ligaments. It was almost as if it had gone through like a surgical knife.”
Baldwin had spent almost an hour playing with some lion cubs in an enclosure early on in the safari park visit, before he was invited to see the bigger lions. It was too big an opportunity for this wild-animal lover to pass up.
“I petted the female one, with no issues, no bites, and got really comfortable. The male sat down and I stroked him on his head and then, silly me, I turned round to give one of the boys my phone to take a picture,” recalled Baldwin. “The lion obviously noticed that I had turned away and, being the king of the jungle, he took his bite. His claw had my arm slightly, but it didn’t go in deep down because he hit the cage.
“Thankfully he let go and I still had my hand – I was a very lucky boy. Sometimes you do things you regret, and this cost me three games for the Ospreys, but hopefully it is something I can learn from.
“It was self-inflicted – I put my hand in a lion enclosure, everyone knows that – but I just want to move on now and focus on getting my rugby back to where I want it to be.”
Baldwin also revealed how the reaction from some of his Ospreys team-mates and rival fans has been far from sympathetic.
“I have been called the Lion King, Simba, all sorts, and when I was warming up for the Saracens game at the weekend all the fans were singing, ‘In the jungle’ [from The Lion Sleeps Tonight],” Baldwin said.
“There was a bit of humour and it is going to be like that. I enjoy it. It is a good laugh and I would be doing the exactly the same if I was on the other side."