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How to Survive a Lion Attack

If you're managed to get yourself into a person vs lion situation, you probably don't know what to do about it. Thankfully, the internet is here for you

If you find yourself in a fight against a lion, as one unfortunate Canadian did recently, things have probably already gone pretty badly for you. You’re probably lost in the open plains of Africa, alone, at night. Try to avoid that, if at all possible. But, really, any time you’re near lions, you should be careful. Lauren Fagen, the injured Canadian, was attacked while volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in South Africa.

If you have managed to get yourself into a person vs. lion situation, you probably don’t know what to do about it. Thankfully, the internet is here for you. More so than it probably should be.

The first thing to know about surviving a lion attack is to not run. It should not surprise you that a lion is way faster than you, but in case you need numbers: the fastest human to ever live, Usain Bolt, can run 27.79 miles per hour. A lion can run 50 miles per hour. So stand still. As one Quora answerer put it, “If you run, you’ll only die tired.”

While you’re standing still, the next thing to do is figure out what the lion wants. Lions that are feeling threatened will swish their tails back and forth, much like your cat does. Lions that are hunting try to stay as still as possible, holding their tails rigid. If a lion is hunting you, this is very bad for you.

Should the lion charge you, you still must not run. This will obviously be difficult, as Discover Wildlife says, in what could be described as an understatement, “Being charged by a lion when you are on foot is extremely frightening.” No matter how scared you are, do not run, and do not turn your back to the lion. If it helps, Discover Wildlife says that “most charges are mock charges, so you will usually be fine.”

In many animal attacks the advice is to make yourself look bigger. You see this a lot in lion attack advice, too. But remember, lions regularly take on (and eat) zebras, giraffes, elephants and buffalo—all animals notably larger than you are. Oh, and also, don’t climb a tree, because lions can climb trees better than you can. There’s a reason they’re the top predator. “The lion hunts terrified prey every day. You’ve don’t have much experience with lion fighting.  On that basis alone, its got a serious advantage,” writes a Quora user.

You might have also heard that fire wards off lions. This worked in The Jungle Book. It will not work for you. Most lions are not afraid of campfires and will walk around them to see what’s going on.

But if you want advice rather than a reminder that you’ll likely lose this fight, another member of Quora has some. Rory Young, a Safari Guide, has this to say:

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

But most sites say that your best bet is spraying the lion with pepper spray. Or shooting it with a gun. You didn’t bring either of those on your walk alone through the African plains? Well, then you’d best stay quite still.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Science of How to Survive a Bear Attack
The Most Infamous Komodo Dragon Attacks of the Past 10 Years

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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