With a 300lb lion in the offing, the couple visiting the safari park could at least console themselves that they had the protection of their car.
They watched in glee as the big cat padded up to their white Toyota.
Then fascination turned to terror as the creature calmly took the rear-door handle between its teeth … and pulled it open.
For several seconds the car remained immobile as its occupants sat in stunned disbelief. Then the driver pulled away, with the lion in hot pursuit.
It chased its quarry all the way to the gates, where a game warden threw a stone to shoo it back into the enclosure.
The drama was played out at Lion Safari Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, and captured on camera by British tourist Richard Holden, who was in the car behind.
At the start of the trail, visitors are warned to lock windows and doors and take off all removable items such as aerials.
But Mr Holden, 32, an engineer, who was on holiday with wife Candice, 32, a teacher, and their two-year-old daughter Faye, said the car in front had obviously left the doors unlocked.
Since the lions at the park are fed every day, there is little chance that the Toyota couple would have been eaten.
‘But they must have been panicking because they didn’t drive off straight away,’ said Mr Holden, from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. ‘If that had been me, I would have hit the gas.’