This is no Simba. Unlike the song, this lion is not sleeping tonight. Instinct kicks in, and you begin to run, but even the fastest human on Earth, Usain Bolt, with his record-breaking speed of almost 45 km/h (28 mph), can’t outrun this terrifying beast.
In fact, with an average speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) a lion can run almost twice as fast as you can.And if it’s gunning for you, a lion can can clock up to 128 km/h (80 mph).
It’s not a fair fight. Male lions, with their iconic manes, weigh a lot more than you do at 120 to 190 kg (264 to 420 lb). Although females are smaller, males can grow 3 m (10 ft) long, including their tails.
Mature lions are about as tall as your chest, at 1.2 m (4 ft). Lions are the only wild cats considered to be social, and live in groups known as prides. Each pride can have an average of 15 lions.
This consists of anywhere between three and 40 lions. But don’t think their social nature means they aren’t interested in having you for their next meal. Lions hunt in packs, and the females are the main hunters and leaders.
Lions kill about 250 people every year. But can you survive?
If your safari has taken a bad turn and you are on the run, what should you be looking for? If a lion is watching you, how can you tell what they’re planning to do?
Can you stare down a lion? Could the moon help you to make it out alive?
Step 1. Watch Its Body Language
If you’re out for a stroll, and you’re spotted by a lion, stop. You need to size up whether the lion is just curious, or whether you’re being added to its next menu. If a lion is pawing the ground, that’s good news. It means the lion isn’t interested in attacking you.
And if its tail is sweeping from side to side, the lion feels threatened. But if a lion is staying as still as possible, and its tail is rigid, it’s on the hunt.
Step 2: Stay Calm
You might have heard this tip on other How to Survive episodes. But still, it’s worth remembering that lions can sense fear. Just stay calm.
Step 3: What Is the Lion Telling You?
So you’re looking at the lion, and it starts coming toward you. If it’s growling and snorting, that’s its way of sizing you up.
Step 4: Send the Right Message
This is no time for a breakdown in communication. The most important thing to do is to let the lion know that you’re not a threat. So don’t face it head on. Instead, stand sideways, and avoid eye contact. And keep an eye on its feet.They’ll indicate what the lion is about to do.
Unfortunately, if you’re sleeping, this won’t help you, as lion attack survivor Patrick Fourgeaud found out. The 64-year-old French man and his wife took a luxury safari trip in Tanzania, and woke up with a lion in their tent.
The lion sniffed Patrick’s wife, and then attacked him, tearing off a portion of his arm. It took more than 10 extensive surgeries to reconstruct his arm. And the attack left Patrick and his wife psychologically scarred for years. OK, so what else can you do to survive a lion attack?
Step 5: Intimidation Can Work
Lions don’t always attack. They size up a situation, and then potential prey, and choose whether to attack, or not.
If you’ve always wanted to be an actor, here’s a great role for you. Intimidate the lion. Make it believe you are a serious threat. Puff yourself up. Wave something around to make yourself look bigger, like a coat or a backpack. And make noise.
If the lion seems calm, maintain eye contact, and back away slowly without turning around. Keep making noise, as you still want to be seen as a threat. But if your performace isn’t convincing enough, the lion may decide to up the ante.
Step 6: Stay Put
A lion will try to scare you by doing a mock charge, and running towards you on a zig-zag path. Even though it goes against every instinct, don’t run. If you run, the lion could attack you from behind, which is exactly what it is hoping for. Oh, and lions like to climb trees. So where were you gonna go? Stay put.
Step 7: Protect Your Neck
I hate to say it, but life happens. Sometimes, you don’t even see something coming until it’s too late. And lions are predators, and you’re on their home turf. So if you innocently turn around, and bang, there’s a lion attacking you, immediately protect your neck. Lions like to go for the throat. Lions can open their mouths up to 28 cm (11 in), and they kill their victims by suffocating them to death. So protect your neck.
Step 8: Stay Out of the Moonlight
I almost forgot to tell you this. You’re actually safer during the day than you are at night. The University of Minnesota found that these big cats are four times more likely to attack humans during the 10 nights after a full moon.
And lions are most dangerous to humans when the moon is below the horizon. The best way to survive a lion attack is to stay out of areas they inhabit. Lions used to inhabit Asia and Europe, but 94% of their population has been wiped out.
And now, they are only found in Africa, where they stick to Sub-Saharan areas. So, unless you have already booked an African adventure trip, you are probably safe from a lion attack.
- “How Does It Feel to Be Charged by a Wild African Lion – Alayne Cotterill” youtube.com
- “How to Survive a Lion Attack”. Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian Magazine.
- “Why Man-Eating Lions Prey on People—New Evidence”. Jason, Bittel. nationalgeographic.com
- “Yes, Lions Will Hunt Humans If Given The Chance”. Helen Thompson. Smithsonian Magazine.
- “Dietary behaviour of man-eating lions as revealed by dental microwear textures”. Larisa R. G. DeSantis & Bruce D. Patterson.
- “Horror as lion POUNCES on Brit and drags him by neck into bush “. Osborne, Simon. 2018. express.co.uk.
- “Lion tears part of man’s arm off during African safari with his wife”. 2020. New York Post.