Answer by Rory Young, 23 years in wildlife management, forestry, and the safari industries as a professional safari guide, ranger, tracker, owner, and manager:
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 80 km 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 the lion is not approaching, but not leaving either, then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move, then freeze immediately.
My wife, Marjet, once walked into a whole pride at a concession we were running in Botswana. It was early morning during the cool season, and she was walking from our home to the camp (a couple of hundred meters away). The lions had just arrived and were sunning themselves in the tall grass, so she didn’t see them till she was right on top of them. Despite the aggressive roaring and repeated charges from different lionesses, she held her nerve and walked away without a scratch. Needless to say, she doesn’t take any nonsense from me …
Nighttime 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 feet 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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