Survival skills are mostly innate. We are born with the ability to size up scary situations and prioritize safety on a subconscious level. When we perceive an imminent threat our bodies enter fight or flight mode. With that, our respiratory rate increases. Blood is diverted away from our digestive system. Heart rate increases. Pupils dilate. We become more aware of our surroundings and less aware of pain. Though fight or flight was designed to save us from predators, these systems are now mostly activated for things like speaking in front of a crowd or when your significant other starts talking about marriage!

In just six days I will leave for the ultimate African safari adventure. I have my vaccinations, my malaria pills and I’ve taken reasonable precautions to ensure my safety on the trip (including purchasing this amazing mosquito repellant clothing) but after watching the video below, I couldn’t help but think about the worst-case scenario when it comes to encountering some of the awesome animals of Africa.

With different types of bear attacks you are supposed to either fight back (black bear) or play dead (brown bear). And while I am totally the person who would mix those two up, I figured it would be worth looking into pointers like these for the animals of Africa. Here’s what I learned.

The Big Five:

The animals in Africa designated “The Big Five” are Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Cape Buffalos and Leopards. These animals got their distinction not because they are the largest, but because they were considered the most difficult to hunt (back when game hunting rare animals in Africa was the cool thing to do). These guys are challenging to hunt either because of their ability to kill the hunters, their size or because they are rarely seen.


African Lion

Warning signs: Deep roar, wagging of tail, showing of teeth.

What to do: Make eye contact, stand still, and make noise but DO NOT RUN. If you need to move, walk slowly backward. The lion will view you as prey if you start to run. Lions are most dangerous when they are familiar with humans. Although I’ve studied some Gracie Jiu Jitsu and learned a choke called “Mata Leão” or “Lion Killer,” I don’t think that I’d like to test this out in real life.


African Elephant

Warning signs: Elephants tend to make mock charges so watch their ears. If the ears are fanned out, it’s likely a mock charge. If the ears are pinned back and the trunk is curled inward, they are likely charging for real… that’s not good!

What to do: If an elephant is charging do not show your back. Yell and make noise while standing your ground – I’ve also seen a video of a man bowing before an elephant, effectively stopping the charge, so I’m not sure there’s a conclusive answer. You can also climb a tree, but make sure that it’s big enough that the elephants can’t knock it down. If an elephant is actually attacking you, play dead… yeah, I think I would pass out, so this shouldn’t be a problem.


Cape Buffalo

Warning sign: Older males tend to separate themselves from the herd and will be more aggressive because they do not have the safety of numbers.

What to do: Run. Accept that you will probably die. Of all the animals on this list I was most surprised to learn about how dangerous Cape buffalo are. Although they are herbivores, their survival strategy relies on attacking their predators. Unlike the Buffalo Bills, these guys are quite successful at defeating their competition (as witnessed in the video above)!

African Leopard

Warning sign: If you get between a mother and her cubs, watch out! (This is a pretty good rule for all animals in the wild – even humans.) Of the big five, leopards are least likely to attack because they are solitary hunters and thus, very cautious.

What to do: Don’t make eye contact; leopards view that as a challenge. Make lots of noise, wave your arms and try to appear bigger. Do not run. Do not climb a tree. Stand your ground and try to scare the leopard off.



Warning sign: Loud snort, most common attack is when the mother is protecting a baby.

What to do: Run toward a tree line. Rhinos prefer large open spaces and may not follow you into cover behind trees. If they do follow, run to the far side of the tree and begin climbing. Once again, make sure that the tree is sturdy enough that an angry, 5,000lb rhino won’t knock the tree over.


Hippopotamus – more deadly to humans than any of the above. 

Warning sign: If you see a hippo yawn, it’s time to turn around. In the dry season hippos may not be able to fully immerse their bodies in the water leaving them partially exposed. They are much more agitated at times like these.

What to do: Hippos are territorial. You will not be able to outrun them, but running away from their territory is not a bad idea. Consider climbing a sturdy tree and pray for the best!


Crocodile – because they’re freaking scary. 

Warning sign: You likely won’t have a warning because crocodiles tend to blend in. Make sure that you are vigilant when walking near the edge of a lake or swamp.

What to do: Run in a straight line as fast as you can. If a crocodile attacks you it will likely latch on to some part of your body and attempt to pull you underwater to drown you. Don’t try to pry the jaw open, but go for it’s eyes and smack it’s snout. If the crocodile opens it’s jaws to adjust it’s grip that may be your only chance to pull away. This would be a horribly gruesome way to die so just avoid crocodiles at all costs!

While survival skills are instinctive, it’s always a good idea to think about the worst case scenario. In order to become a sailboat captain we learn about survival tactics and crisis management should anything bad happen onboard your vessel. The bottom line here is if you are facing an attack from a large, unpredictable animal in the bush, a lot of things must have already gone wrong. Traveling with experienced and reliable tour guides is always your best option. Safari guides are trained to see, hear and even smell things that the average person simply would not. Also, make sure to travel with someone who is slower and looks tastier than you, just in case! 😛

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Which of the animals below would you be most terrified to encounter? Comment below!

Want to learn more about my upcoming trip? Check out Nomad Convoy to see our planned itinerary.

I’ll be making Video Blogs during my time in Africa – make sure to follow along by subscribing to my youtube channel.

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