Tour Guide Killed in Lion Attack Did Everything Right

There's little a person can do in the face of Africa's top predator, experts say.

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A male lion in Hwange National Park, where a tour guide was killed. Hwange was also home to Cecil the lion.


The tour guide killed by a lion while on a walking safari in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park did everything right in responding to the attack, according to experts—but he still paid the ultimate price

Quinn Swales, 40, a professional guide, was leading a group of six tourists in the park—the former home of Cecil the lion—when they came upon a pride. The male lion got up and began approaching the tour group.

"As he had done numerous times in his career, Quinn immediately briefed his guests on what to expect and instructed them to get behind him and not move," Camp Hwange, a safari camp in the park, said in a Facebook statement announcing the death.

After Quinn and the group shouted and set off a “bear banger”—an instrument that makes a loud noise like a gunshot—the lion seemed to retreat, only to double back suddenly and attack Quinn. He died on site.

"The guide who lost his life did his job: Placing himself between tourists under his care and a source of danger," Luke Dollar, program director for National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, says in an email.

Dollar says the park should review whether it was wise to place the guide in that vulnerable situation, particularly when there was a safer option of watching the animals from a vehicle.

However, he adds that "walking safaris themselves are generally and widely done safely and responsibly."

"I don't expect this will lead to a major change in whether walking safaris continue to be a common offering in safari experiences," he adds.

"What this incident will hopefully do, however, is serve as an important reminder that safety—in any endeavor—should always be of paramount concern."

Top Predator

Dollar adds that the male lion was doing what it evolved to do.

"Almost any organism around lions might be a potential prey item, and for people to think that they are an exception is folly," Dollar said in a previous interview following a fatal lion attack in South Africa in June.

"I would imagine that every other primate that co-exists with big cats is acutely aware of the position they hold relative to the top predators of the world." (Also see "California Death Prompts Questions About Lion Attacks.")

Dollar says danger arises when people allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security in the presence of lions or other carnivores.

"We don't have claws or big canines or size as an advantage," he says.

Respect the King of the Jungle

Dollar estimates that dozens, if not hundreds, of people are attacked by lions each year.

In the wild, old or sick lions may target people because they cannot catch their normal prey, and people are generally easier gets.

"If a person is standing next to an impala and a lion decides it's going to eat something, that impala is probably going to get away and that person is probably not." (Learn more about big cats and their behaviors.)

That said, people should not be afraid to observe lions in the wild, Dollar said, but should know that they might be viewed as potential prey and to act accordingly.

"We need to remember that we call these animals the kings of the jungle for a reason," says Dollar. "We need to respect what they are and their natural behaviors."

With reporting by Mary Bates. Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+. 

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