How Gordon Buchanan stole a lion’s dinner in Tribes, Predators and Me

The filmmaker talks about his new special and the fear he faced when going head to head with a lion

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Adventurer and wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan is travelling the world, exploring the cultures of different tribes in BBC2 series Tribes, Predators and Me.

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In episode two, he meets Kalahari Bushmen to steal lions’ prey on the Botswana plains. It was a sobering experience.

Trying to steal a lion’s dinner sounds dangerous, so the first question is – why?

It comes down to necessity. We went out hunting for prey, but were unsuccessful so the tribe was hungry. The Bushmen see the lion as a provider because it gives them an opportunity to share in the lion’s kill. So by scaring the lion off, we took a share of the kudu antelope it was eating before it returned to finish off the remainder. The tribe have enormous respect for lions and, around the campfire that night, they thanked it for providing dinner.

Scaring off a lion? Surely you were the one who was afraid!

It’s completely counter-intuitive to walk towards a huge predator with blood dripping from its mouth in the hope it’s going to run away, so I can’t deny I was fearful. But the secret is to stand tall, walk purposefully and with utter confidence and not show any sign of weakness. If you did it without total conviction, the lion would detect your fear and you’d be in serious trouble.

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Did you secretly wish you’d packed your running spikes?

The old adage is you don’t have to outrun the lion, you just need to be faster than the slowest man. But eyeing up the Bushmen, I realised all of them could leave me eating their dust. Actually running is the worst thing you can do because it triggers the chase response. The Bushmen said they’ve seen a lion run past a man standing to chase a man running away. Running indicates fear and marks you out as prey, so it’s the last thing you should do, despite every cell in your body screaming at you to flee.

So while you were sauntering towards the ravenous lion, where was the film crew?

The cameraman was a couple of hundred metres back, filming with one of the longest lenses I’ve ever seen.

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No doubt with a trained marksman to hand…

They didn’t have one – the most efficient health and safety officers are the Bushmen themselves. They possess skills and knowledge that have been honed over thousands of years, so it makes more sense just to trust them. I spent time getting to know these men and so when it came to putting my life in their hands, I had complete confidence in them. That said, I can’t deny I was terrified at times.

So if readers are confronted by a hungry lion, what’s the best way for them to escape with their life?

On no account run, and always stay in a group of three or four people. There’s more safety in numbers, so the Bushmen never venture out alone. I had an upset stomach when we were out hunting and had to briefly break away to go to the toilet. Squatting down in the bush, I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my entire life.

Lions are three times the weight of a man and will kill you with a single bite to the skull or back of the neck, so if it decides to attack you, your only real hope is to climb a tree. Lions can climb trees, but if it’s one that has spindly branches that won’t support the lion’s weight, that’s the best course of action.

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Tribes, Predators and Me continues Sunday 27th March at 9pm on BBC2