Producing lions out of nowhere

Numbers are dangerous.

I demonstrated this conclusively when I took natural science finals and proved without a doubt in the data handling paper that there were minus 306 elephants in the Masai Mara National Park. I had studied the management of elephant in African national parks, and had strong feelings about the lack of serious anti-poaching measures at the time.

My supervisor said my psyche had got in there and cocked up the figures, but I didn’t agree.

It was the numbers. The minute you turn real life into numbers reality is obscured, and then anything can happen.

I am reminded of this glorious result now, as I prepare to visit South Africa to help an old friend count lions. There is a very real risk that the result of my statistical analysis will alarm the whole world, because we may find ourselves in lion debt, with a negative lion balance. How does one manage such a thing? If one is a manager one must, I suppose, conjure up some more from dust and hair clippings. Impossible? Surely. There is a limit to anyone’s ability to make something out of nothing. Even God took six days, and you can’t deny He hit a few design glitches on the way.

Look at testicles. Would you have put them there? In a footballer? No wonder God needed a rest.

As with all things my flight of ideas leads this back to my frustration that the very fact that there is a PCT budget deficit seems to oblige you and I to redress it. More savings please. We must make lions out of nothing. Soon our PCT reimbursement for removing someone’s vile suppurating sebaceous cyst will be slightly less than the lost of the CJD-proof landfill-destined instruments we use to do it. We’re told if we don’t do it someone else will, so we will pay the PCT for the right to operate — from the point of view of the numbers it’s a great plan. For the lions, it’s a disaster. Heaven knows where their testicles will end up.

Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at

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