As a Senior Zookeeper working with dangerous animals for nearly a decade, me and my fellow keepers have had our fair share of close calls while working. In this video that has recently been gaining attention around the interwebs, we see an inquisitive lioness open a family’s car door while on safari in South Africa.
While it may be comical to look back on, it could have ended in complete disaster. Close encounters are incredible memories, but we must never underestimate wild animals, or–even worse–zoo or nature reserve animals who have no fear of humans.
One can get blasé when working alone or with another keeper, but it only takes one chimpanzee to grab you, one rhino to corner you, or one lion to give you that look and you remember who you are working with (that is, if you get the chance to remember!). We are working with nature’s finest; they need care and respect, and we need a good knowledge of their capabilities.
When we go out into the bush with wildlife, we endeavor to have a sound knowledge of the animals behavior, coupled with a moral and ethical understanding of safe, respectful viewing and encounter time with those animals. 99% of the time, things go well and we all come back to the fire with great stories to tell. 1% of the time, it’s not great and we have to deal with our exposure to wild and dangerous animals. Please excuse the anthropomorphism here, but I am sure the animals have unpredictable “off days” too! We are on their turf and we need to know that they are not pets or our friends. They tolerate us, but that’s about it really.
We must also remember it’s never the animals fault when things go south. We have either managed them and created a zoo/wildlife park scenario or taken an uneducated risk in the wild. And then, there is the 1% unexplainable, unpredictable factor–an elephant charges for no apparent reason, a bear charges from the other side of a river–there is always a reason, we may just not see it. Surprising things happen when we least expect it.
In this case, as we saw in the video, a lioness opens a car door! Where did they learn that? Not in “lioness-evolution” school I can assure you. They learn that in “There-is-a-big-interesting-thing-in-my-enclosure-with-squishy-bits-inside-that-smell-good” school, that’s where! They have no fear of people in situations like that.
So lock your doors, folks. Stay safe and keep a respectable distance, learn as much as you can about animals’ behavior, talk to others, understand their capabilities and potential. And most of all, get out there and see the WILD!