Saturday, July 23, 2011

Of lions, people, and digestion

I'm somewhat dumbfounded to read about the latest scientific research in Africa. The Telegraph reports:

A lion is most likely to eat you just after a full moon, research has shown.

Other predators, such as wolves, may also be at their most dangerous when the moon starts to wane.

The discovery, from an African study of 500 lion attacks, could explain the full moon's place in folklore as a harbinger of evil or disaster, and its association with werewolves and vampires.

Scientists studied records of nearly 500 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009.

In more than two thirds of cases, the victims were killed and eaten. The vast majority of attacks occurred between dusk and 10pm on nights when the moon was waning and providing relatively little light.

Lions hunt most successfully when darkness allows them to surprise their prey, but on bright moonlit nights they might have to go hungry.

The period immediately following a full moon provides a lion with a welcome opportunity to catch up on missed meals.

. . .

The pattern emerged clearly when the researchers compared attack rates with moon phases. Attacks were a third more frequent during the second half of the cycle, when there was little or no moonlight.

There's more at the link.

I can't help thinking that most Africans would regard such research as basically quite pointless. Being an African myself, allow me to assure you, we take lions very seriously there! We know that, if the beast is hungry, he's going to be looking for the quickest, easiest meal available: and humans have no horns, no hooves, and very ineffectual teeth with which to defend themselves, and move much more slowly than lions' usual prey. Why do you think most man-eaters get into the habit in the first place? They find that people are a damn sight easier to catch and kill than your average antelope or zebra (not to mention things that are really nasty, such as buffalo, hippo, rhino or elephant, all of which are more than capable of defending themselves, thank you very much, and take a dim view of a hungry lion in their immediate vicinity).

No. When it comes to lions, bugger the time of month. We treat them with great respect, 24/7/365. That's how we stay alive!

Lions aren't the only things with claws and teeth that we respect, either. As the late, great Herman Charles Bosman pointed out in his short story "In The Withaak's Shade", part of the anthology "Mafeking Road":

"Leopards? – Oom Schalk Lourens said – Oh yes, there are two varieties on this side of the Limpopo. The chief difference between them is that the one kind of leopard has got a few more spots on it than the other kind. But when you meet a leopard in the veld, unexpectedly, you seldom trouble to count his spots to find out what kind he belongs to. That is unnecessary. Because, whatever kind of leopard it is that you come across in this way, you only do one kind of running. And that is the fastest kind."



(P.S.: For those who'd like to hear the whole of "In The Withaak's Shade", read in an Afrikaans-accented English that's music to my sometimes-homesick ears, an audio version is on YouTube. Click here to listen to it.)


Anonymous said...

I wonder how many villagers in India are burning incense to the shade of Jim "Carpet Sahib" Corbett in hopes that their little leopard problem will end?


LabRat said...

Or, to put it another way, they are animals designed to operate at dusk, dawn, and night, and we are animals designed to operate in broad daylight. How hungry the lion is has a lot less to do with it than the odds of some poor sot out at night being able to spot a predator before it's way, way too late...

Janeen said...

LabRat has it right. I suspect that the results of this study have less to do with predators craving human flesh in the dark of the moon than they do with predators having a distinct advantage over human prey at that time.

Now, how about a study on how alcoholic beverages act to make humans more enticing to predators?

MrGarabaldi said...

I remember a Gary Larson cartoon where a couple of alligators had just polished off some travelers and they commented" no teeth Awesome" We basically are the animal kingdoms version of SPAM.

Anonymous said...

The statistic could also have nothing to do with lions at all, but with HUMAN behavior. The humans who were attacked might be less able to perceive a lion attack during a waning moon, but think they are because the moon is "mostly" full. Maybe. Either way, it shows the weakness of relying on statistical data to prove a point.