Safari Guides Weigh in on the Viral Video of Lion Opening a Car Door
A few weeks ago we shared a video of a lion casually opening the door of a car in a safari park in South Africa. The footage made international news and garnered millions of views on YouTube in a few short weeks. It also raised some interesting questions, such as ‘why would a lion open a car door?’ and ‘what should you do if a lion opens your car door?’.
They may seem like pointless questions, but since safaris generally take place in open-topped vehicles with nothing really between the passengers and the wild things outside, they seem worth asking. Besides, if lions are now going around opening car doors, it sort of changes the whole dynamic and we should probably all know about it. So we asked a couple of professional safari guides for their take on the now-infamous incident.
The first and perhaps most important clue about the lion’s strange behavior probably lies in the location where the video was shot. Though the location wasn’t disclosed (as far as we know), safari guide Simon Stobbs points out that it was likely in some sort of ‘lion park’ as opposed to in the wild.
“You can you can see the fence in the background as well as a fence around the base of a tree which would stop the lions climbing into the tree,” Stobbs noted.
He went on to explain that lions in a lion park are raised in captivity and visitors are allowed to interact with them, which causes the lions to lose their natural fear of humans.
“On a number of occasions, I have been leading walking safaris in the wilderness when we have walked into lions that were sleeping. On seeing us, the default response for most of these lions is to run away. The lions in this clip are clearly not scared of humans,” says Stobbs.
Dave Luck, who grew up in Zambia and has been guiding safaris in Botswana for many years, echoes this point, “My take on this is the lioness is quite young and her and the pride have no doubt been in contact with many tourist vehicles and have lost their natural fear of humans. Curiosity has got the better of her and she is quite determined to investigate the ‘contents ‘of the vehicles.”
So far, so good. Still, lions in, say, the Serengeti, probably encounter quite a few people in vehicles as well over the course of their lifetimes. Yet they don’t seem to overcome their natural fear of humans or give into their curiosity.
According to Luck, the height of the passenger vehicle might be another clue that helps explain the lioness’s brazen behaviour, “Something to note here too is the height or level of the occupants in these ‘non safari vehicles ‘. They are at the same eye level as the lions and therefore are less intimidating. Safari vehicles are higher and as a whole are bigger than normal cars.”
Still, there are times, according to Luck, when a lion will become interested in a safari vehicle, “Children never sit still, especially in an when animals are around. They get excited and naturally so. This really can stimulate a predator to investigate, especially if the child moves erratically and makes high pitched sounds.”
So what would have happened if the quick thinking passenger in the video hadn’t been able to close her door so quickly?
“I do not think the people in this car were in danger,” says Stobbs. “However, I am not a huge fan of these lion parks purely because the lions are not afraid of humans. Over the years, I have heard of numerous accidents at these kind of safari parks.”
Still, Luck urges caution when in close proximity to wild animals, “Lock your doors when entering a wilderness area, close your windows when approaching lions that are close and respect the wildlife. The tragic thing is many wild animals both predators and non-predators are euthanized because the line was crossed.”
So, what have we learned?
1. Don’t visit lion parks. The animals are bred in captivity and have had far too much close contact with humans. Stobbs also mentioned that there are numerous reports showing that lions bred in captivity are often later shot as trophies or are used to meet the demand for the growing lion bone trade.
2. If possible, enjoy the sight of lions from the safety of a safari vehicle. Stobbs says he’s never once seen a lion approach or touch a safari vehicle in the fifteen years he’s spent guiding safaris.
3. If you are in a passenger vehicle with lions or other animals around around, lock your doors and roll up your windows, both for your sake and for the safety of the animals.
4. Tell your kids to pipe down already.