Violet D’Mello was wrestled to the ground by a captive big cat after she entered an enclosure at a wildlife park where tourists are invited to pet the animals.
The 60-year-old housewife from Aberdeen was on holiday with her husband, Archie.
Mrs D’Mello said yesterday: “It was terrifying and happened so quickly. One minute I was in the enclosure with the cheetahs and the next it was biting at my head.
“I was thrown to the ground and had to play dead while it mauled my legs and stomach.
“It starting scratching me really badly, and then I could feel the other one come up, too, and one of them got my neck in its mouth.”
She said she tried to use her hands to protect herself but was overpowered.
“Because there were two of them, I was being bitten all over my legs and down my side near my kidneys, too.
“The attack seemed to last for ages. People all around were screaming, and I had no idea how I would escape.
“They had felt soft but now they were really powerful and were just all over me.
“Eventually someone came and chased them off me, and my husband picked me up off the floor. He helped me to my feet and we managed to walk over towards the gate.
“It was only then that I realised how badly hurt I was. I was bleeding profusely and my head was agony.”
Her ordeal came when the couple visited the private Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Mr D’Mello, 64, a commercial helicopter pilot, said they paid £4.50 each to view a pair of captive cheetahs close up.
He described how he was forced to stand helplessly as the cheetah mauled his wife.
“It was totally frantic and terrifying, a real melee,” he said. “Violet was on the ground and the animal kept biting her head and thighs.
“The other cheetah came over, too, and was scratching at her. I couldn’t do anything and the guide didn’t even have a stick to defend herself.”
He added: “In the end, a woman from reception heard what was going on and came running over with a stick which the guide used to frighten away the cheetahs.
“The attack must have been going on for three minutes at least by then, and my wife was bleeding badly.”
Mrs D’Mello was rushed to hospital, where she needed bandages for wounds on her head, stomach and legs and was given doses of painkillers and antibiotics.
Mr D’Mello, who booked the couple’s month-long tour of South Africa as a 60th birthday present for his wife, said she was bleeding profusely after the attack.
He said: “She was in a terrible state and was bleeding badly, particularly from the wound on her head.
“Luckily, one of the women who worked at the place was a former nurse and she helped patch her up before we went to hospital.
“The doctors said she was lucky to have escaped alive.
“One of the cheetahs’ paws had torn around her right eye and if it had been a centimetre to one side she could have lost her eye.”
Kragger manager Dave Cantor described the attack as a “freak incident”.
“We have had these cheetahs for four years and reared them from hand,” he said. “They are pretty playful but they love human contact and we have never had an problem with them before.
“They usually purr like crazy when people stroke them. This time I think it was really just a freak incident.
“It was a long weekend and there were lots of children around the outside of the enclosure so perhaps the cheetahs got riled up.”