This is the moment a baby owl had a miracle escape after it fell from its nest into a zoo enclosure only to leave it face to face – with a LION.
The fluffy tawny owlet managed to survive for three days after it tumbled from a branch and landed inches from the killer lioness.
Onlookers watched as the female Asiatic lion called ‘Indu’ eyed the surprise visitor – who weighed just a few grams.
The owl – who had not yet learned to fly – then spent three days in the enclosure near seven-year-old Indu and her mate.
But amazingly she survived being eaten and after several clumsy efforts eventually managed to take off – and flew away to safety.
The incredible pictures were taken by retired teacher Sheila Hassanein, 64, who was visiting Paignton Zoo in Devon.
Sheila said: ”Someone saw the chick fall out of a tree and it landed right in the lion enclosure. A big group of people quickly gathered round to watch.
”We were all very concerned about the owl as it looks completely helpless in there. It was so tiny compared to the lions.
”At one point one of the lions went over to it and I felt sure she was going to eat it, but she just didn’t seem bothered at all.
”The staff couldn’t go in there to remove the chick so it was in there for three days before it was able to fly off.
”It was very lucky to escape because I saw a pigeon land in there once and the lion ate it up straight away.”
A zoo spokesman said visitors were keen for the owlet to be rescued but staff could not allow anyone to enter while the cats were in the paddock.
He said: ”Tawny owls are common and Asiatic lions are endangered but in this picture it’s the tawny owlet that looks to be facing extinction as the lion is a deadly carnivore.
”Indu is about one metre at the shoulder, about two metres from head to tail and weighs 180kg. A tawny owl chick weighs just a few grams.”
Keeper Lucy Manning said tawny owls nest wild in the tree above the lion enclosure – and staff initially thought the owlet had escaped from their owl house.
She said: ”One day the chick just turned up on the ground. Indu peered at it for a while but then lost interest. I think it was too small to eat.
”We believe it got away as if she had eaten it there would have been fluff and feathers. It probably flew off as our bird keepers said it was nearly ready to fledge and an adult was seen nearby.
”The wonderful thing about the photo is the look on the owlet’s face – it seems to be demanding food.”
The pair of Asiatic lions are part of a European breeding programme to protect the endangered species, as only 300 live wild in India.