A tourist on safari in South Africa came perilously close to losing his hand – or worse – to a lion after reaching out to pet the wild beast on its back as if he were a house cat, News Corp Australia is reporting.
French writer Joseph Méry once wrote that “God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger.” And though this article is about lions, not tigers, Méry’s point still holds true: if you want to pet a feline, best do so with a domestic cat and not a wild one. Just ask the unidentified tourist you’re about to read about.
A group of tourists was enjoying the wildlife in South Africa when their vehicle stopped so that the people inside could get an up-close look at wild lions. As YouTube channel Wildlife Encounters notes, the vehicles provide shade, which can be in short supply in Africa’s vast grasslands, attracting lions who want to cool off. That’s a boon for the tourists inside those vehicles, as the beasts are literally within arm’s reach.
Of course, just because you can reach out and touch a lion with your hand doesn’t mean that you should. That’s especially true when the animal has its back to you: in the wild, coming upon an animal from behind generally indicates to the animal that he’s about to be eaten, challenged for dominance, or something else unpleasant. And so when a tourist opened the window, reached out his hand, and tried to pet the beast… well, just watch.
Fortunately for the tourist, all the animal did was bare its teeth and growl, in order to let the tourist know he (the lion) meant business. It could have been much worse, says South African safari ranger Naas Smit.
“It would have the power to pull that tourist straight out of that window and kill them instantly in front of their friends. It was an incredibly stupid thing to do. It could also just have easily crashed its way through the open window and torn into those inside. They were lucky to get away with it. They are wild animals.”
Smit also notes that the consequences of such an accident would extend beyond the tourist: game officials would have had to kill the lion, already a vulnerable species. And if the lion were the chief of a pride, it likely would have had repercussions for the cubs in the pride.
“I just have to shake my head when I see people behaving like this and they deserve all they get.”