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How to survive a close encounter with a lion

Because limbs are worth keeping

How to survive a close encounter with a lion
14 March 2011

The lion may sleep tonight, but he’s not going to be napping 24 hours a day. Expert safari guide Garth Hovell, who will launch a luxury walking safari in South Luangwa, Zambia, this June (, helps us tame our fears.

“The best thing is to use a guide or ask about the places you should avoid, but if you find yourself in close proximity to a lion, it’s ‘fight circle’. The lion will first growl, snort and move slowly towards you. Turn so that you’re side-on to the lion. Don’t look it in the eye, but you need to see what it’s doing, so look towards its feet. You can even bend down a little. Force the lion to make the decision.”

“Lions often make mock charges. They’re designed to frighten and involve lots of noise, teeth, pawing of dust on the ground and jerky running in a zig-zag motion. A full charge is fluid, straight and only has one growl. Either way, stand your ground, even though every part of you will tell you to run. The lion doesn’t want to fight you because it can’t afford to be injured, but if you run, it will chase you.”

“If it runs at you, clap your hands and shout from your guts. This will nearly always make it stop and turn. Stop clapping and shouting. Walk away slowly, still side-on, towards an open area, never a thicket. If you see a tree or termite mound you can climb or hide behind, aim for that. The lion will usually leave you alone.”

“If it charges again, turn to face it, raise your hands and shout as loudly as possible. When it stops and turns again, do not continue with the aggression. Turn sideways and keep moving. It’s a chance to avoid a fight.”