Why do lions attack humans?

The major reason why lions living in the wild attack humans is because they are injured or elderly and infirm and as a consequence incapable of surviving in the conventional way by preying on large animals. Lions attack zookeepers in their cages sometimes and this is due to a natural predatory instinct probably enhanced by the fact that they are confined to a cage with little possibility of exercising their natural behaviour which is predominantly to do with hunting. You can’t really expect anything else for a confined lion.

I’m writing this article because there is a very appropriate story in The Times newspaper today about a camper who fought off a starving lion with his sleeping bag. I’ll add some detail below but the interesting aspect of the story from my perspective is that after the lion attacked the man it was tracked down and found to be an old and emaciated male. There is a photograph of him and this lion was incredibly emaciated and clearly on the verge of starving to death. The poor creature was desperate. Lion attacks on humans such as this one are rare and you can see why it happened. The lion had no choice. Humans are not prey animals to the lion.

The emaciated lion who attacked Gotz
The emaciated lion who attacked Gotz. Photo: Dirk Heinrich Photo Library
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Steve Bolnick, a safari guide with thirty years’ experience in Africa, said that the lion attacked out of “sheer desperation” and that this particular lion had not eaten for a long time. He said, “Although lions preying on humans is unusual, we do often find that it is the older animals who are responsible. The lion could obviously smell someone in that tent who, he hoped, would be an easy target. It was incredible that he just kept at it.”

The reason why he kept at it was because he was starving. A thirty-two-year-old man, Gotz Neef, was woken up in the early hours of December 7. He was camping in the Okavango Delta which is described as Africa’s “last Eden” and is a UNESCO world Heritage site.

Gotz saw the silhouette of a lion. Moments later the lion pushed into his tent and he tried to push it away with his sleeping bag but it was determined to attack him, he said. The lion grabbed his head but he managed to pull it out and pushed his left elbow into the lion’s face which caused the lion to bite it. A colleague rushed to his aid and picked up a pile of dried elephant dung as a weapon. It was the only thing available to him. He threw the dung at the lion without a response from the big cat.

He then threw thorne branches at it but that didn’t work either. At this time the lion was chewing on Gotz who ended up being badly injured with broken bones and multiple lacerations. He then beat the lion with a piece of tree without success. Another colleague came to their assistance by driving a van at the lion while avoiding Gotz. He drove at the lion several times before it would let go and staggered away. He thinks the whole ordeal took about an hour.

Gotz was then taken by his friends on a 3 hour night drive to find medical aid. My sympathies are with both animal and person. I feel bad about the lion because he was badly hurt by the van and was starving to death. His days were over. It was a merciful act to euthanise the cat.

P.S. I have not shown images of Gotz mainly because the injuries are gory and don’t want to upset Google Adsense the main advertising agency on this website.

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