Dangerous Plays

Dangerous Plays

stupidtouristwithlionAs access to Africa’s wildernesses develops and improves, visitors are becoming less respectful and careful. This puts everything in jeopardy.

The photo above of a self-drive tourist in Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve last Sunday “posing” in front of a pair of lions was taken by a film crew at some distance from the tourist. Presumably the tourist didn’t notice the film crew.

The series of photos was first published in London’s Daily Mail. Click here for the full sequence.

The tourist spots the lions, which seem to be about 15-20 meters away. He stops the car then exits the passenger’s side (right side) which is the opposite side to the lions.

He then races around the car to place himself between the car and the lions, leans back with a thumb’s up obviously posing for another person in the car who probably takes a picture. He then runs back around the car and gets back in.

The photos capture no reaction from the lions other than an occasional glance at the tourist.

These are certainly wild lions, and why they didn’t react is impossible to say. They appear to be a mating pair as it is unlikely to see only one male and one female alone together.

Lion mating is pretty routine: It lasts about three days during which time the pair often can’t be roused by anything, not even hunger. But not always, and it’s impossible when first encountering them to determine at what stage in the three-day mating process they are.

I’ve encountered a mating pair when the male charged our vehicle. There is often a vicious fight between males for the right to mate prior to the mating commencing, so it was possible we arrived just as that altercation had ended.

I’ve also seen mating lion break apart to join a kill. Once again such an anecdotal encounter could be nothing more than having happened to arrive just at the end of the mating process.

I don’t think it’s possible to conclude why these lions were so passive in this case. I suppose an equally cogent argument to my own anecdotal experience is the clear fact that more and more tourists are seen by lions, now. Generations of lions in places like Kenya’s Maasai Mara are becoming more used to people and learn that they aren’t threatening.

That, of course, is a degradation of the wilderness but one that I can hardly oppose. Without tourists — at least in Kenya — there would be little wilderness left.

We are at an interesting crossroads in the development of African wilderness for tourism. As so clearly illustrated in this example, wilderness is taking on the characteristics of a theme park, one that definitely has elements of danger in the experience which seem precisely to be one of the main attractions.

And at least in this case flirting with that danger is apparently one of the selling points.

There are dozens of stories of tourists going too far and paying the price. Just google “tourist killed by lion” or “tourist killed by buffalo” for a tidy wrap-up.

Many of these tragedies aren’t quite as wanton stupidity as evidenced in the photo above, but many are.

What concerns me most is that as more and more of these incidents occur, lions and other wildlife will grow more and more accustomed to man and his peculiarities. This seriously jeopardizes their own wild behavior.

There are many people in Africa who consider lion in the same regards as Montana ranchers consider wolf. A tamer lion is much easier to kill.

And there will be more and more tourists injuries and deaths as well. These two ends of the stick will burn right through to the middle, and tourist parks like Kenya’s Maasai Mara will either have to become far more restrictive or will simply be sold to wheat farmers, or both.

The result is that there will be less wilderness for us all to enjoy.