Tracking Dangerous Animals


Lions usually move away when they become aware of approaching humans. Cases of Lions preying on humans are rare, though it is more common in some parts of Africa than others. Old or disabled Lions may take to killing humans, although healthy individuals may also turn to this practice. Unprovoked attacks on humans may also be accounted for by injuries from wire snares.

When you are moving into the wind, there is the danger of stumbling onto sleeping Lions. If suddenly disturbed, they can quickly become aggressive. Avoid thickets and dense tall grass, especially near waterholes and rivers. Lions spend the heat of the day sleeping, so you should be careful not to walk right into their midst.

Lions are particularly dangerous when you inadvertently come too close to them, if they are pursued or harassed, and when you encounter mating Lions, feeding Lions or Lions with cubs. Old or ill Lions are more aggressive. Lions are also more dangerous at night.

Avoid Lions by noting fresh spoor, vultures, the roaring of Lions and the laughing of Hyaenas. Their presence may be indicated by zebra and wildebeest that are hesitant to go near water, especially if they are staring at a thicket. Giraffes also indicate their presence by staring at a thicket.

It is important to recognise the sounds made by Lions when they are hunting, feeding, mating or have cubs with them. Feeding Lions should be approached with care (or not approached at all), since other Lions may be lying in the thickets in tall grass in the vicinity. When mating, their growls are initially soft and something like faraway thunder, increasing in intensity and eventually erupting in one or two very loud and ferocious snarls. A Lioness with cubs may reside in the vicinity of waterholes where they hunt and stay until the cubs are big enough. Their presence may be indicated by a soft umf call of the mother and the cat-like miaow of the small cubs.

Lions are most active around dusk, with hunting done largely at night. Lions do not roar while hunting, but at night the alarm calls of plovers and dikkops may indicate danger. When camping out at night one should have a big fire going and have someone to keep watch. While Lions may enter a camp when everyone is asleep, the presence of someone who is awake, will keep them away.

Getting out of a vehicle close to Lions is much more dangerous than actually coming face to face with a Lion in the bush. Suddenly appearing out of a vehicle may frighten them, which may prompt an attack in self-defence.

Never run away when you encounter Lions. If you run, they will run you down, as Lions instinctively charge and kill a fleeing animal. Stand still and slowly back away downwind until you are out of sight. If the Lion does not like the movement, stand still. The outcome of a surprise meeting is unpredictable. Male Lions usually avoid confrontation and quickly disappear. A female with young may be more aggressive. She may merely adopt an aggressive attitude, flicking the tail briskly while growling in a threatening way. At close range she may charge.

If the Lion’s tail is twitching or jerking, but the ears are still cocked, it is probably just nervous or excited, but not angry. An angry Lion flattens its ears, crouches low, and whisks its tail ever more rapidly from side to side, while uttering a nerve-racking series of coughing grunts or slurring growls. As its anger mounts, its tail is jerked stiffly up and down, and it initially comes at a trot before charging.

Wounding the Lion at this critical stage can be as dangerous as turning and running. Unless you are sure you can stop it before it gets at you, it may be better not to shoot at all. There are two methods of dealing with a charging Lion (unless it is already wounded, in which case the only way to stop it is to kill it before it kills you). If you can keep your nerve, you should remain absolutely still, facing the charging Lion and not taking your eyes off it. It may then suddenly stop, only a few metres away, crouching flat on the ground while emitting nerve-shattering growls and roars. The display may last for only a few seconds, and when failing to unnerve you, it may suddenly turn and disappear into the bush. Be prepared, however, for another charge, and only back away when you are certain that it is safe to do so.

!Xõ trackers of the Kalahari maintain that if a Lion charges you, you must stand still and shout loudly and aggressively and throw sticks and stones at it. You must look it in the eyes, and not move back or try to run away. If you react aggressively towards it, the Lion will lose its nerve and back off. When it backs off, slowly move backwards. But when it charges again, once again stand still and shout at it. You must repeat this procedure, moving downwind, until you reach a safe distance.

To call a lion’s bluff you need to work yourself up psychologically into an extremely aggressive frame of mind in spite of the fear you experience. !Xõ trackers deal with their fear by combining aggression with tension releasing humour. On one occasion, a group of trackers and I stumbled onto a lion that was busy stalking our camp. The trackers decided to chase it away, so we set out on its spoor, armed with throwing sticks, spears and clubs. As we followed the spoor, the trackers would shout aggressively, working one another up, and then hurl abusive insults at the lion, followed by laughter and joking to release the tension.

If you are charged by a Lion, it may happen very quickly, so you will not have time to think. Never be caught unprepared in such a situation. Condition yourself so that when it does happen, you will be able to react intuitively and instantly.