Franco Luis Ferrada Roman was severely mauled by two lions after he broke into their cage on Saturday, 21 May. He barely escaped with his life after the big cats were shot dead.

The 20-year-old jumped into the big cats' enclosure and stripped naked, and then walked into the centre of the cage, horrifying other visitors. The lions pounced on him straight away and started to play with him. Zookeepers were alerted to the incident and shot the two lions so as to save his life.

Zoo director Alejandra Montalba said there was no other course of action as fast-acting tranquilisers were not available to stop the animals from attacking Roman. "The zoo has an established protocol because people's lives are very important to us," she said.

According to an eyewitness, security personnel were slow to act. Cynthia Vasquez, told Chilean radio station Bio Bio that "first they threw water, evacuated the people and only later did they fire shots".

The crowd started screaming as soon as they saw what was happening. Another witness added: "There were a lot of children there, and parents covered their eyes while it was going on."

Roman was able to gain access to the lions' den by climbing up to the roof of the enclosure and forcing it open. "He entered the enclosure from above and the lions started to play with him, and then after they attacked him," Vasquez said, adding that he was also "shouting things about Jesus".

Another witness said: "He was screaming religious things."

According to Chilevision news channel, and also confirmed by Metropolitan Park director Mauricio Fabry, a suicide note was discovered on Roman's person, stating that the apocalypse was the reason for attempting to end his life.

Dr Sebastián Ugarte, director Clínica Indisa's intensive care unit, said that Roman's heart almost stopped and that he had "suffered several injuries and trauma to the head and the pelvic region". He is now no longer in a critical condition and should make a full recovery. It later emerged that Roman's mother had recently died from cancer.

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