The Sunday News
LIONS are a major tourist attraction, billions of hectares of camera space and terabytes have been spent, by many a tourist, trying to get the best picture of lions in zoos and indeed in the wild where they roam wild freely.
Zimbabwe is one country where they still roam wild and free and in some instances have killed tourists or tour guides. Each time tourists come across lions, the first instinct is to take the best picture. However, that, if not done with precaution can result in a tourist being attacked by lions.
What to do when you come face to face with a lion Should you ever happen to be in the path of a lion while out on a walking safari in Africa (or any safari park) or due to the sheer bad luck of falling into the lion enclosure at your local zoo, then you’ll need to know what to do. Like most information of this sort, it’s better read now and tucked away for future reference, in the off chance you might actually need to draw on it when it matters most.
1 See if the lion is not interested at all. In fact, most lions will choose to run when confronted by a human, especially if you show any signs of being scrawny, as they prefer to avoid confrontation with non-typical prey species. However, the desire to run away can’t be said of all lions, especially those that feel cornered, are starving or feel that their territory or cubs are threatened.
2 Above all, do not run. Running around any animal that hunts for a living will incite its prey chasing mechanism faster than you can blink. It will be difficult but hold your ground and breathe steadily. Tell yourself over and over, “I will not run, I will not bolt, for if I do, the lion will too.”
3 Talk in a calm and firm voice to the lion. You can tell it anything you like really, provided it’s calm and firm. After all, lions don’t know a single human language, so it’s all down to body and facial signals and a steady voice.
4 Try to make yourself appear larger than you really are. Lions are fairly lazy on the whole and if you look like a challenge, the chances are that the lion will treat you as such and be less inclined to attack. Things that might help increase your physical size appearance include:
— Raising your hands above your head and keeping them there.
— Pitching your jacket between your raised hands to look like a sail, and hopefully a bigger you.
— Widening your stance gently and not so much as to over-balance. BUT, don’t spend too long attempting this; it probably won’t work that well.
5 Retreat very slowly backwards, continuing to face the lion. As you walk backwards, maintain eye contact. Never turn your back; this just makes it really easy for the lion to see a clear leaping space without eye contact to disarm him.
6 Clap, shout, and wave your arms. This isn’t normal prey behaviour, so this will confuse it, and give the lion the illusion that you are one noisy nuisance that needs to be avoided. Unfortunately, this conflicts with the next piece of advice, which is to avoid making sudden movements. So you’ll need to clap and shout without being too effusive in the process.
Ready yourself for an attack. For lions, most of the time a first and possibly even later charge is only a warning, but not always. Listen for a deep growling roar just prior to a charge. This means that you need to be prepared to do whatever you can to fight off the lion.
If a lion does charge you, then hold your ground, remain standing and do not bolt. Instead, clap your hands, wave your arms (no need to worry about sudden moves anymore, it’s defend yourself time) and make noise like shouting.
If need be, fight back with whatever you have to hand, such as sticks, rocks, your backpack, your belt, your safari pack, your binoculars, whatever. Throw as hard as you can and aim for the face, the eyes and anywhere else likely to cause pain.
Lions will go for your throat; by staying standing and fighting back (punching, kicking, hitting with objects, etc), you may survive — there are accounts of people having done so this way.
Only run if there is enough space between you, the lion and safety. Judging that is contextual.
Lions are powerful, beautiful animals. Take all necessary precautions to stay out of their way and let them live as nature intended. Especially as a tourist or visitor to Africa, don’t do stupid things like walking alone or unaided in a lion country, and going where you haven’t a clue what’s going on.
Obey all the rules in safari parks. The rules are there to protect you; disobey them at your own risk.
This is their territory, not yours. Wild animals are always best observed from a distance. We use our equipment to get close up, not our bodies.
If you see a lion with baby cubs, know that they are extra-protective and should be given lots of space. Be very cautious at night time. Lions are not as afraid of humans at nighttime. Never trek a lion without an experienced guide. If you see a wild lion, do not approach it, ever. You can get close ups through your camera lens.