What should you do if you see a lion? – Day 32

Posted on April 4, 2012

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This is a question that was troubling me before I left the UK. I had heard stories that in the past the Budongo Forest Reserve had lions. I for one like to plan for the unexpected – failing to plan is like planning to fail – and let’s face it, if you were eyeball to eyeball with a large man-eating cat you’d be cursing yourself that you hadn’t thought things through.

There are no lions where I am, but in Kaniyo Pabidi (the locals call it KP), which is further north-east and is still part of the reserve there are lions. Nancy told me a story the first day we met, about a man who used to work within KP’s forest.

The man was cycling home when he came across a male lion with a female and two cubs on the path a few hundred yards ahead. He screeched to a halt, placing both shaking legs on the ground to steady the bicycle. The cubs began to approach, like all youngsters they were curious. They came up to the man’s legs and began licking his feet and ankles with mum and dad watching on. Not wanting to upset the parents, he stayed perfectly still. Lord only knows what was going through his mind. But it was as if someone had heard his prayers and a few moments later a patrol vehicle passed by. The driver opened the door and yanked the man in, leaving the bicycle behind. Inside the safety of the truck the man cried out: “Thank God. I think I died for 15 minutes.”

I did a lot of reading about protocols for encounters with dangerous animals. For a crocodile on land you’re mean to run in a zig-zag, it makes it harder for them to move left and right. In the water, you are meant to stop kicking and thrashing about. They usually pull prey under to drown it first and then drag it back to their lair. If you can hold your breath for long enough you may have a chance of living if you play dead. Crocs prefer rotten meat rather than fresh. Hippos, well kiss you’re a** goodbye, but if you do happen to still be alive when it has you in its jaws, you are meant to stick your fingers up its nose. It’s supposed to let go as it cannot breathe. Bush pigs (they are like wild boars) get into a tree. So what about a lion?

Well instinctively you might think run, right? WRONG! Predators like to chase prey, it’s instinctive. Turn your back and you may as well lie down and cover yourself in salt and pepper. You are supposed to make yourself look as large as possible by picking up something big or heavy. Hold it above your head or put your hands up in the air and wail like a banshee. And this is the best bit……..then run towards it. Yeah I know, I think most of us would struggle to move. Lions in Africa climb trees, so forget about scaling a tree you’ll never out climb a cat, Basically anything that makes you look vulnerable and like prey, don’t do it. I was so paranoid about seeing a lion off grid in Budongo that my friend back home gave me an attacker alarm. This little beauty I carry on my belt. It looks like a marker pen but when you hold it away from you and press the lid down sharply is lets out an almighty ear-piercing sound. Harmful to human ears so let alone an animal’s. I would think it could bust an eardrum. I have not had to use it and I hope I jolly well don’t have to.

But lion attacks although rare, do happen. Queen Elizabeth National Park in the south-west of Uganda borders some villages. During the dry season people usually carry out controlled burning of grass to regenerate the shoots and it can also stop wildlife moving in closer . But this year a few villages did not do this, so the grass remained. This has meant that cobs (antelope) are coming into the villages more regularly to feed, attracting predators to this area. The resident intern vet, Ricky told me last night that last week a male lion entered a village in search of cob. It heard goats bleating and followed the sound. There it discovered a lone woman cooking over a camp fire. It attacked her. It went straight for her jugular and was clawing at her face. She remarkably tried to fight it off screaming. The commotion was so loud other villagers ran to her rescue. Thankfully their numbers scared the lion off. She was rushed to hospital, poor woman. The lion was then traced by rangers and darted. But instead of dropping the sedated cat deeper into the park, they only left it 40km away. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that a lion which attacks unsuccessfully, will no doubt wake up hungry and inevitably go back for more. I mean 40km – really?! I walk that in less than three days so for a big cat, it’s nothing. The lion did indeed come back to the village and this time it killed and ate two cows. They still have not caught the lion, but I tell you what, if I lived in that village, attacker alarm or not, I would have relocated to another village a lot further than 40km away.

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