Now Bob Lawrence is stepping down after more than 40 years of service caring for animals at West Midland Safari Park.
His life-saving moment came shortly into his career at the park, when a lion took a visiting housewife by the throat.
Bob forced his hand down the beast's throat, which was enough to make the animal relinquish its grip, and the woman made a full recovery.
The woman had written to Halesowen Round Table saying it had been her dream to play with a lion cub.
Fifteen-month-old lionesses Suzi and Suki had been reared by hand, and appeared at numerous school fetes and local shows.
"We made the classic mistake of a romp too far," said Bob."
"Suki placed her paws on her shoulders and then licked her neck once, twice, sniffed the afternoon air, then slowly, deliberately unbelievably, sank her teeth into her victim's throat."
The 66-year-old has experienced enough adventures to fill a whole series of James Herriot stories, but it was the incident with the lion for which he will always be remembered.
Bob joined the safari park near Bewdley shortly after it opened its doors in 1973.
A few months into his new job, Bob was tasked with rounding 130 baboons which had escaped.
"They were in the roads holding up the traffic, they were in people's gardens, they were everywhere," he recalls.
"They came back with a lot of souvenirs – washing off people's lines and things like that."
The sizzling summer of 1976 presented more problems.
"It was a terrible time, people didn't want to sit in their cars with all the windows closed, so for a time we put the lions behind a fence," Bob adds.
"That was there for a few years but after that, we went back to people driving among the lions, which was what we were meant to be in the first place."
In 1978 a sea lion show was brought to Bewdley from the South of France, and for many years it was one of the most popular attractions during the summer months.
One of Bob's saddest moments came when he was forced to destroy the monkey population at the park after 130 rhesus monkeys contracted a virus.
A few years ago Bob completed a degree in zoology, gaining a first.
He passed with flying colours and received his award from Sir Michael Parkinson and was congratulated by Sir David Attenborough during the graduation.
He has also been involved in conservation schemes around Kidderminster and the Wyre Forest area.