Could Punching a Lion (Like Idris Elba in BEAST) Save You?

Even if you haven’t seen the movie Beast, you probably know that Idris Elba punches a lion in the face. The moment in the trailer caused plenty of chatter online. It also raises a bunch of questions. Do lions hunt people? Is it a bad idea to punch a lion in the face? We asked Tina Silva, senior wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, for insights about lion behavior.

To Fight or Not to Fight

“If the lion does attack, fight back,” says Silva. “Even as an apex predator—and despite what is depicted in the trailer—African lions do not want to increase risk of injury, or waste energy pursuing a difficult prey item that continues to fight back. They do not normally seek out humans as prey, but attacks on humans can occur as we continue to inhabit their territories.” So even if you don’t pack quite the same punch as Elba, it may not be such a bad idea. But only as a last resort.

While this Slate article jokingly determined which cats you can effectively punch, please don’t. “The best advice is to not put yourself in a situation where you could be attacked in the first place,” says Silva. “Respect lion territory and their distance. If you come across an African lion, maintain eye contact and start to back away slowly. If the lion starts to move toward you, stop. Many times, an African lion will mock charge first, as a means of intimidation. As terrifying as that may be, do not run or turn your back!”

Three female lions peer out from under an enclosure
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Protecting Lions

Hopefully Beast‘s legacy will be as a fun monster movie without creating stigma around lions the way Jaws increased panic about shark attacks. Zoos can help with the mission of raising appreciation for animals people may never see in the wild.

“One of my favorite parts of interacting with guests is to share individual stories and anecdotes about the animals I get to care for,” says Silva. “Anybody can go online and look up animal facts, but what I want visitors to walk away with when they leave our zoo is an appreciation for the individual animals they saw. Once people have an emotional connection to those animals, they’re more likely to take the initiative to learn more about the species and support organizations that are directly working toward their protection and conservation in their native range.”

Two lion cubs play with each other
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

The trailer certainly gives off real Jurassic Park vibes. Elba is even wearing a similar outfit to Alan Grant as he comforts kids trapped in a car by a monster. Though, apologies to Sam Neill, there’s strong competition for who wore it better. Instead of the debate about bringing animals back from extinction, we need to address lion’s vulnerability in their native habitat. And how to reconcile that with human activities.

The San Diego Zoo has the big cats on exhibit, but also supports lion conservation projects in the wild.  “It would be devastating to see African lion conservation efforts scaled back, if the species were to be villainized,” says Silva. “I think most people already do have a fear of being in a top predator’s space, but hopefully, audiences will keep in mind what natural lion behavior is and not take too seriously this dramatized version of it.”

Featured Image: Universal Pictures

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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