You know the story of the two guys who are being chased by a lion. One says to the other “We are going to die. We can never outrun this lion.” His friend replies: “I don’t have to outrun the lion. I only have to outrun you.”
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A recent paper* turns the modern spotlight of statistics onto that pressing issue of how best to survive a big cat attack. The authors analysed data from 185 puma attacks on humans in North America over more than 100 years. The response was severity of injury, ranging from no injury to death. The predictors were age, group composition and behaviour. I am not sure about age but I am guessing that you shouldn’t go walking by yourself in puma country for a start. The modern data crunch used to reveal the elusive truth was multinomial regression.
It turns out that age had no effect on injury severity. Once the puma gets his claws into you, you are pretty well fu…d, well in serious trouble however old you are.
There is confirmation that if you are in a group you have less chance of injury – just as the guys in the humourous story reasoned from first principles. But the severity of injury is not reduced by larger group numbers. Your mates are obviously too busy climbing up the nearest tree to distract the puma from snacking on your wobbly bits.
It also appears that your behaviour influences the chance of serious injury. Specifically, it is found that if you stand still and wait for the puma to attack you then you have a higher chance of injury (74%) then if you run like hell (50%). And it doesn’t really matter how fast you run – presumably because the puma can run faster than you or Usain Bolt.
So, if you see a puma attacking then you should run. Who would have thought! ** This is science and modern number crunching at its best – pushing the frontiers of human knowledge and saving human lives.
*Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, 22, 77-87.
** OK, I am being a bit hard on the authors. Actually, conventional wisdom and some wildlife agencies advise against running. The California Department of Fish and Game says on its Web site, in part: “Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal.”