If I got lost on an African safari and came face-to-face with a growling lion, what should I do to garner the best chance of survival?

Rory’s answer to:

Answer by Rory Young:

The first thing you do when coming across a “growling lion” is freeze and avert your eyes. You also do not point at it.

If a lion is not habituated to man it will most likely run. The danger arises with lions that are more used to people.

Look at the animal’s tail. When a lion is angry or feeling threatened it will sweep its tail from side to side. If it is hunting it will keep its tail stiff and twitch it from time to time.

It is much more serious if it is actively hunting you.

If you see stalking indications then raise your arms above your head and wave them and most importantly SHOUT YOUR HEAD OFF.

If you have something in your hand then throw it at the lion.

Even if the lion charges you do not run. Believe me this can be extremely intimidating. They charge at 65km per hour and the roaring is deafening.

If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately. If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately.

Night time encounters are another story. I was once doing problem animal control in Gache Gache in Zimbabwe, trying to bait and shoot a lion that had killed several people and the night before had almost succeeded in breaking into Chief Mangare’s hut.

It was dark but moonlit and I was lying on the ground, carefully backed into a euphorbia hedge along with two game scouts and a fellow ranger.

I heard a very faint noise behind me and the lion was crawl-stalking me and just 10 foot back! He had actually carefully crawled through the dense hedging to sneak up on us. He was too close for me to be able to turn and shoot. However, I turned on the torch in my hand and shone it in his face. He ran off.

So, if you are walking in the bush at night (it happens in safari camps especially) and come across lions, keep your beam in their eyes and back away.

One of the biggest myths is fire. Lions are not afraid of campfires and will often walk round them and see what’s happening. However, keeping a fire between you and a lion is probably better than nothing!

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What is the best way to defend yourself against a large cat attack?

Answer by Rory Young:

There are many accounts of people not only surviving lion attacks but killing the lion (with something other than a gun).

One of the techniques recorded as used by the the Maasai and other African tribes hunt lions was to provoke a charge; covering themselves with their shield and wedging the butt of their spear against the ground and letting the animal impale itself.

One of the most amazing stories of bravery I have ever  read was recorded by the explorer Frederick Courtney Selous.

Two Matabele (Ndebele) boys who had a cow in their care killed by a lion. Determined to redeem their honour and the cow, they set off with one shield and one Assegai. They provoked the lion to charge by approaching it while it was feeding.

The intention was for one of them to let the lion attack, while protecting himself with the shield. This would distract the lion, allowing the second chap to spear it. This is clever and shows they understood lion behaviour. A lion that attacks more than one person will usually stay on that one individual.

The first boy did hold the shield and let the lion attack him whilst covering himself with the shield and the second did spear the lion and kill it.

Unfortunately the boy who held the shield was killed by the lion and the second boy was mauled but survived. The cow was retrieved.

              Matabele Warrior

Then there is the amazing story of game ranger Harry  Wolhuter who was attacked by two lions while riding a horse in the Kruger Park in 1904.

One of the lions grabbed him in its mouth by his shoulder and dragged him off to eat him.

Somehow he managed to draw his sheath knife knife and stab the lion, mortally wounding it.

Harry Wolhuter

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