Joshua Sutherland. A South African Lion on the verge of opening a car door

It's the great fear of every pet owner: one day Rover or Tiger will work out how to use door handles and there goes our privacy. Multiply it a few thousand times and contemplate how anyone living on the African savanna feels about the idea of big cats figuring out how to operate technology without opposable thumbs.

Well, it seems our nightmares have come true.

 

 

The video was taken by Kaylene Sutherland when she and her sister Cindy were visiting their parents who were based in South Africa at the time. Their brother Joshua uploaded it to his YouTube channel last March. There it sat, along with a dozen other family videos with less than a hundred views each, until being discovered by social media yesterday.

Visitors to game reserves are told to keep their doors locked, but the warnings are probably issued more with monkeys or chimpanzees in mind than lions. Less dramatic videos suggest the event was not a one-off, but no one knows if the lions have an agenda in mind or are simply grabbing onto the shiny thing and pulling it back in a manner similar to the way they rip skin from their prey. Alternatively, this individual may have witnessed humans using door handles, presumably at a safe distance, and worked out the way to get some meals on wheels. Perhaps, it is a talent in which this individual takes pride.

We do know that tool use is far, far more common in animals than we once imagined. It is only 55 years since Jane Goodall amazed the scientific world with the discovery that chimpanzees use blades of grass to “fish” for termites. Now, we observe everything from crows using tools to reach more suitable implements to dolphins using sponges as nose protectors, and rewiring their brains in the process.

Some commentators say the lion in question is a juvenile male, but while we can't claim that identifying the sex of big cats is one of our areas of expertise, there seems to be a stronger argument that this really is a “clever girl.”

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