Are you a screamer?

A couple of hikers who were attacked by a bear have been blamed for the attack because they ran away and screamed. So what on earth else can you do, asks Susan Erasmus.

I have to quote the intro of this article here, because I found it so bizarre: A couple probably provoked a fatal attack by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park by yelling and running away from it despite advice to the contrary, an investigation has concluded.

And now for the killer sentence, so to speak: The report noted that signs at the start of the trail indicated the presence of bears and gave the standard advice not to try to run if approached by a bear, but to carry pepper-spray.

The attack turned out to be very serious, as the grizzly bear killed the husband, but left the woman behind after shaking her around a bit by her backpack. She was rescued by fellow hikers who heard her screams. (Note to self: screaming is good)

Let's just think about this for a moment. You are in the wilds, and the next moment several hundred kilos of fur-covered grizzly blocks your path. Or a snarling lion. Or you're swimming in False Bay and a suspect triangular fin approaches. You are programmed to get away, to flee for your life, and to make as much noise as you can in the process.

And yet, in all the most threatening situations, you are advised to do exactly the opposite: don't run away from a grizzly bear, stand your ground when a lion attacks, and poke a shark in its eye or in its gills (forget the nose-punching story – it apparently doesn't work).

Come on, guys, get real. If you have the kind of nerve to watch a prowling and growling lion approach, or an upright bear, and you don't move a muscle, you are either simply not human, or you don't get how serious this situation is. Or you are simply frozen to the spot because you've soiled your pants.

Anyway, back to the Great White. Right in front of that shark's eye are a few rows of the sharpest teeth on this planet – and they're aiming straight for you. Misjudge the distance when trying to poke it in the eye and it could cost you an arm and a leg.

I would rather face bank managers or be stuck in a lift with an ex from many years ago. I would rather go for a job interview or to the dentist every single day. But staring down a large toothy beast that does not have my welfare in mind, is no way to spend a summer afternoon.

Right, now I can hear detractors saying they will do whatever it takes to save their lives. And if it means a staring contest with the King of the Jungle, so then be it. If you have that kind of nerve, forget the lion - there's a job waiting out there for you as President of Somalia, or the Minister of Finance in Greece, or as Julius Malema's public relations officer.

In short, we are simply programmed for survival and in my book that means fleeing danger while making a very loud noise. At least then you have a fighting chance; because what if you decide to stare down the grizzly or the lion, or to poke the shark in the eye, and they decide not to play by the rules, and they vreet you anyway. My last thought would definitely be: I am so suing the writer of that safety pamphlet. Yeah, right.

Fleeing is a proud human tradition. It has brought us to where we are today. You size up the enemy and you choose a fight or flight option. Like the American couple, I choose flight, and I recommend that you do the same. And make it snappy.

Right, now I am heading to the aquarium for hands-on lessons on poking a shark in the eye when it attacks. Any other takers?

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, September 2011)

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