Welcome to part-2 our celebration of lions for World Lion Day, happening on 10 August.
Today we present the hard-working men and women of conservation, those who strive to do whatever they can to save these endangered animals, who give their all to make a difference in this world and create real change for the betterment of nature’s treasures. Joining them is a group of special authors, writing both fiction and non-fiction, who provide us with the hard-hitting and grim realities of conservation and issues facing lions and other animals, as well as hearty entertainment, which takes us on adventures across Africa that inspire and enchant.
© Drew Abrahamson/Captured in Africa Foundation
We begin with Her Royal Highness Princess Alia Al Hussein of Jordan, Founder of the Princess Alia Foundation and the Al Ma’wa Wildlife Sanctuary. Princess Alia began her Foundation with an aim to “promote compassion and respect for all creations” with a focus on ensuring “the balance between humans, animals and the environment to provide a better future for generations to come”. The Princess Alia Foundation also co-founded the Al Ma’wa Wildlife Sanctuary in Jordan with another of our contributors, Dr Amir Khalil.
Princess Alia first shares her father, King Hussein of Jordan’s, story about when “he was visiting Emperor Haile Selassi in the early nineteen sixties and had just started to ascend the steps when a large male lion walked towards him and he literally took a giant step back down to the car. The lion went on past calmly and when he entered the meeting room he saw that there were calm lions everywhere and was told that they were part of the “household”, as the emperors of Ethiopia had always been known as the Lions Of Judah.”
She then shares her story, saying “My own adult first hand acquaintance with an individual lion was when we were handed a young female who had been rescued from a zoo raid by the local authorities. We named her Hope and the wildlife rehabilitation center we were starting up became the “New Hope Centre”. Hope became a sort of mother figure for a group of four cubs who arrived a few weeks later, and eventually they all moved to Lionsrock in South Africa.
Some of the residents of the Al Ma’wa Sanctuary in Jordan © Al Ma’wa Sanctuary
On a visit the following year I was deeply touched to see that Hope remembered me (although I had not had very much to do with her – we were advised not to interact too much so as not to make the animals reliant on humans) and while the younger cubs looked as if I was vaguely familiar, Hope actually came towards me and brought them all with her. Seeing them in a large enclosure in their own natural environment left an indelible impression on me – it is not too much to say that it changed my life and outlook – and now zoos are in some cases better – some worse – than each other but they simply do not compare with sanctuaries where they can really BE as free as possible.
That inspired us to found Al Ma’wa, a regional sanctuary in Jordan for wildlife victims of smuggling or conflict zones or zoos and with nowhere else to go. It is wonderful to see how these creatures change and blossom when they are allowed to be who they were supposed to be!”
Some of the residents of the Al Ma’wa Sanctuary in Jordan © Al Ma’wa Sanctuary
“Lions are the rightful royalty of the animal kingdom”
~ Stephen Travis, CEO of Protecting African Lions
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. He campaigns vigorously on wildlife issues and has commissioned two undercover investigations into captive-bred lion “farming” in South Africa. His newly released book “Unfair Game” details his findings about this brutal industry. Here, he provides us with Simba’s story, a story of survival. He says “His name may lack originality but his story is unique. My favourite lion is called Simba and, given his traumatic history, it is remarkable that he is still alive. He has used all his nine lives and perhaps more besides.
Two years ago, after a visit to South Africa, I became determined to expose the horrors of lion farming. There are now some 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa and virtually all of them are destined for a cruel fate.
When they are small, the animals are used for cub petting at tourist attractions. When they are older (perhaps a year or more), they are used for “walking with lions”, again as tourist attractions.
Once they are fully mature, the lions have one of two fates: they are sold to be shot in “canned hunts” in which the lion has no chance of escape in a confined area. Or, they are slaughtered for the bone trade because there is a huge market for products such as lion wine and lion tea in the Far East.
A captive (aka “canned”) lion hunt in progress in South Africa © Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
As part of my desire to expose the evils of lion farming, I used undercover operatives, including former Special Forces men. One of them, posing as a trophy hunter, had chosen a captive-bred lion, who was later called Simba, from a “menu” of lions available on the internet. During several eventful months, we discovered that the chosen lion had even been used as the target in a so-called “green hunt” in which the animal is shot with a tranquiliser dart rather than live bullets. Eventually, my undercover team rescued Simba just hours before my first revelations about lion farming appeared over 11 pages of a British newspaper – The Mail on Sunday.
My first undercover operation was called “Operation Simba”. Later it prompted a second, larger investigation called “Operation Chastise”, which also led me to write a book exposing the whole vile industry. Unfair Game was published in the United Kingdom and South Africa earlier this summer to wide acclaim.
In October last year, I flew to South Africa for a poignant and emotional visit: to set eyes on Simba for the first time after he had been found a permanent new home at a secret location in South Africa.
Just six months earlier, aged around 11, he had been maltreated, malnourished and abused. However, when I saw him, he was healthy, happy and safe. One of Simba’s new carers described him as a “real gentleman”, adding: “The great thing is that lions forgive and dare to trust again, and to love unconditionally.” Today Simba has come to symbolise the stance that I, and many others, are taking against the captive-bred lion industry. This appalling trade shames South Africa and must be halted.
For more information about Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroftwildlife.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @LordAshcroft. His new book Unfair Game can be ordered from Amazon and Biteback.
Simba is safe and secure in his new home at a secret location in South Africa © Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
Lord Ashcroft’s Book “Unfair Game” © Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
Tony Park is the author of 18 thriller novels set in Africa, including the newly released “Last Survivor”. He lives half of every year in Australia and the remainder in Africa, where he and his wife, Nicola, own a house on the edge of the Kruger Park and a share in Nantwich Lodge, Zimbabwe. Here, he tells us of his memories of adventures in Zimbabwe and his thoughts on lions and what we humans can do for them.
“From the deeply terrifying purring of two lionesses circling our tiny pup tent on our first visit to Mana Pools National Park, in Zimbabwe, to the unforgettable, moving sight of our first ‘kill’ at Nantwich camp in Hwange, lions have been an integral ingredient in the heady mix of experiences that have addicted my wife and me to Africa.
As we learned more about these majestic cats and they went on to inspire scenes in many of my novels, so, too, did our knowledge increase of the dangers these seemingly invincible predators face. To save Africa’s lions mankind needs to learn to live in harmony with wildlife and the environment, to give back habitat, rather than keep taking, and to conserve and protect the lions that remain. This can only be done with the support of those who must share their lives with lions and they, too, must see a real benefit from protecting their traditional foes. Nicola and I are often lulled to sleep and woken by the roaring of a lion. If we can all learn to live in peace with our neighbours wouldn’t the world be a better place?”
Tony Park visiting elephants © Tony Park
We now share some special words from the Maasai Mara. Joseph Parteri is a Community Leader of the Maasai Mara Amboseli Region in Kenya. The region is one of the most famous safari destinations in Africa. The Amboseli National Park, declared a UNESCO site, is Kenya’s second-most popular national park, and includes views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain, as well as an abundance of game viewing opportunities.
Drew Abrahamson and the Captured in Africa Foundation have worked closely with Joseph on Human Wildlife Conflict situations. Joseph tells Drew what made him “fall in love with Lions and “wildlife””, saying, “Drew I am from a Maasai community where earlier men used to hunt lions for being famous. I once went for lion hunting, it was a bad experience. Then I thought of a more famous way than killing. We pioneered for Eselenkei Conservation Drew. Before the community accept our ideas, there was a lot of resistance. Our cattle were killed and we could do nothing. Men thought of killing for revenge but we could convince them not to. My community empress wildlife and conservation.”
Joseph shares with us two photos, being a lion in their conservation area and his cow killed by a lion.
Local Lion & Cow Killed by a Lion © Joseph Parteri
“If we cannot live alongside and preserve these incredible animals in the wild it will be a catastrophic human failure.”
~ Jan Creamer & Tim Phillips, ADI International
Dr Amir Khalil, Veterinarian and Director of Project Development at Four Paws International, has some incredible lion rescue stories to share. Four Paws is an international animal welfare organisation with a vision of “a world in which humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding”. Dr Khalil is a veterinarian specialising in saving animals from disaster areas and war zones. He has established various animal sanctuaries, including Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, and Al Ma’wa in Jordan, along with the Princess Alia Foundation.
Dr Khalil explains about his life as a veterinarian in war zones, stating that “War Vet is my personal account of my international animal rescue missions and my dream to promote animals as ambassadors of peace and humanity. As an Egyptian-born Austrian veterinarian working for the International organization Four Paws, I organized complex rescue missions through war zones, negotiated with presidents, warlords, bandits, and gypsies, and was fortunate to escape a variety of car bombs, mines, snipers, and other dangers. I believe that animals have the power to unite humans, as shown in these stories where hope, faith and persistence triumph over insurmountable odds.
For me as a person to rescue animals is the same feeling like to rescue a human, no difference (it is all about humanity no matter animal or human).
Lions for me are a majestic creature, they are the kings, they are so proud.
Look how we treat the ambassador of the United States, UK or Germany or any ambassador in our counties. On the other hand, how we treat the ambassador of the jungle (the King of the Jungle), we take him in small cage, imprison him and we say educational value.
Lions helped me and many times they open the borders for me. Lions build bridges between nations. I learned not to show my emotions during missions. On the other hand, I enjoy the success of the rescue and seeing the rescued animals touch grass for the first time in their lives, no cruelty, no suffering.”
Dr Khalil says that, although he has several stories to share, he thought it would be interesting to focus on the stories of Max, Mona and Simba.
“Max and Mona are the 2 lion cubs rescued from a refugee camp in Rafah, Gaza, in 2015. A short video of their rescue story can be seen here. A pair of inseparable lion cubs – as you can see below – were found in a refugee camp in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
Max & Mona in their travel crate © Dr Amir Khalil
The cubs were owned by a private person after spending the two first weeks of their life in Rafah Zoo. In the small apartment where they grew, the cubs were surrounded by kids and eventually they became too large for the place.
After long negotiations, I, under FOUR PAWS’ umbrella, got with my team the permission to enter the Strip and to take the animals to a proper sanctuary, in Jordan, at Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife, a place run by Princess Alia Foundation and FOUR PAWS.
Till now, the two cubs are still inseparable and it’s very rare, I would even say impossible to see Max or Mona without the other… They can be seen here playing together in their new home.
Simba is one of the two only survivors of the war in Mosul, rescued by FOUR PAWS in 2017. A short video of Simba’s rescue can be seen here.
Believed to be about four years old, Simba was born in the Montazah Al-Morour Zoo in the eastern part of Mosul during the ongoing war in Iraq. Most of the forty zoo residents died of starvation or were killed by bomb attacks. A few animals escaped from their damaged enclosures. When the FOUR PAWS rescue team stepped in during February 2017, they found only two animals alive in the zoo: bear Lula and lion Simba.
Simba’s story is heartbreaking. His mother killed his father but she did not do any harm to him and preferred letting herself die from starvation than eating her cub.
After weeks of difficult negotiations in Iraq, we successfully evacuated both wild animals in April 2017 and brought them to Jordan, at Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife, run by Princess Alia Foundation and FOUR PAWS. Due to his good health and relatively young age, and after over half a year of rehabilitation in Jordan, Simba was finally ready for his final journey to his forever home, to LIONSROCK, in South Africa. He was going home, to Africa.
Simba in his forever home at Lionsrock © Dr Amir Khalil
“It is wonderful to see how these creatures change and blossom when they are allowed to be who they were supposed to be!”
~ Princess Alia Al Hussein of Jordan, Princess Alia Foundation
Gareth Patterson is an environmentalist, independent wildlife researcher and author of 10 books, who has worked tirelessly for over 25 years to protect African wildlife, focussing particularly on lions and elephants. He worked with the famous Adamson lions, which he returned to the wild after the murder of George Adamson.
He tells us of a special memory from on the ground in Africa his book, as mentioned in his book *To Walk with Lions – The seven principles of true spiritual fulfillment that come from living with the king of animals”. He says “My golden moment happened as I stood next to a young male lion called Batian in the midst of the African wilds. Batian was then of an age when he would soon enter adulthood. The young prince was about to become a king. He was maturing and I suspected that he had begun calling for the first time the dramatic song of a territorial lion, the leonine song that has been interpreted by some as meaning:
Whose land is this …? Whose land is this …? It is mine… It is mine… It is mine…
Suddenly, as I stood beside Batian, at the start of the new day, he began to call, roaring at the dawn…
Those were moments of wonder. And it was then that the true meaning of the lion’s song crystallized within me. Lions call to the world – I am the land… the land is me… I belong… I belong… I belong…”
* Note from Gareth – This book of spirituality guides one on how to walk spiritually with lions, and not physically.
To Walk With Lions Book © Gareth Patterson
Stephen Travis, CEO of Protecting African Lions Foundation (PAL), provides us with an important message about lion conservation. P.A.L. is a non-profit organisation with a mission to obtain protection status for the African Lion. They work with various organisations across Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa, including on the ground projects, community involvement and development, with a focus on protecting wild lion populations throughout Africa.
He says, “On World Lion Day and every day, it is vital to reach out to educate as many people as we can to ensure the safety and protection of this incredible species. Lions are the rightful royalty of the animal kingdom, top of the food chain and the most majestic, family orientated powerful animals on the planet. Today, they are being persecuted, poisoned, snared and totally exploited by unscrupulous lion farmers, cub petting facilities and the “medicine” market in the Far East. This must be stopped.
The great work being done by organisations on the ground to protect these animals is vital to avoiding the extinction of the species. Working in partnership with Captured in Africa Foundation has resulted in real time, on the ground conservation.
I am proud we can help make a difference and continue the fight to protect lions worldwide.”
Powerful Lioness in the wilds of Africa © PAL
“My [Maasai] community empress wildlife and conservation”
~ Joseph Pateri, Community Leader, Maasai Mara
Richard Peirce is a wildlife conservation campaigner, author of 16 books, including the newly released “Pangolins: Scales of Injustice”, and broadcaster, including the new film and campaign “Lions, Bones, & Bullets” on the captive hunting industry. He has had a lifelong passion for wildlife, and many of his books and films have raised awareness of the plight of rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and others.
He shares with us his story of the “two near misses” – “One time near Okaukuejo in Etosha I was out in the early morning and spotted a lioness stalking a grazing gemsbok. She was only about 100 metres ahead of me, just off the track to the left and was completely absorbed in her stalk. I was shooting video footage and my companion, who was on the left side of the vehicle, was shooting stills. I needed to get out of the vehicle to get the footage I wanted. Before getting out I thoroughly checked the whole area around and behind the lioness looking for the rest of the team. I spotted two more lionesses strategically positioned in back up positions ready to support the hunt. Vegetation was very sparse, and there was no real cover which is why I had easily spotted the two back up lionesses. I was quite convinced there could not be any more lionesses because even a rabbit would have been easy to spot. The three lionesses were intent on the gemsbok, I could see them all, and was happy it was safe to get out of the vehicle to film.
The lead lioness charged and reared up to grab the gemsbok on its shoulder. Her claws raked down the gazelle’s flanks, but it jumped to the other side, kicked backwards, and ran off. A second lioness then joined in the chase. The gemsbok was now flat out and running for its life, and the hunters soon gave up the chase. I was delighted, I had got three or four minutes of very exciting footage. I turned to go back around my door to get into the vehicle, and there sitting on her haunches looking very relaxed was the fourth lioness, the one I had missed!
She was only three to four metres away. I got back into the vehicle and gently shut the door, grateful for the fact that my window was three quarters closed. Her amber eyes looked into and through me, and she yawned a disdainful yawn as I started the vehicle and put all the windows up. She got up, walked to my side of the vehicle, and flopped down centimetres from my door. I put the vehicle in gear and she got up again, gave me a disapproving look and rubbed along the side of the vehicle before sauntering off with a bored nonchalant swagger that said, “You silly little human, I could have killed you but I couldn’t be bothered”!
Richard Peirce in the bush © Richard Peirce
Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips are the Founders of Animal Defenders International (ADI) including the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa, which “gives abused, rescued animals, respect and a life of loving kindness, as close as possible to what nature intended”. ADI has spent the last 20 years rescuing hundreds of animals from compromised situations, particularly circuses, across the world.
Here, they share some of their stories, explaining that “As Animal Defenders International (ADI) lions really came into our lives as we began exposing their abuse in captivity, particularly in circuses. Here, in the worst of circumstances we have seen their majesty and indomitable nature, surviving with their spirit intact in circumstances that would break most humans.
Sadly, many nature programmes, despite showing the majesty of these animals, often reduce lions to a series of utilitarian instincts for hunting and survival. But they are so much more. They are loyal, altruistic to each other, playful, loving, protective, cautious, bold, and each individual character different.
We saw the family bonds between lions ADI rescued from a circus in Peru, when the old male, Leo recovered from dental surgery – the circus had smashed all four canines with metal bars. Separated from his pride, his daughter Africa was distraught, but as he stirred from the anaesthetic and she saw he was alive her excitement was palpable. She urged him to her. Semi-conscious, Leo would raise himself up, stagger a few paces then collapse. Africa willed him on and as he finally reached the fence, she stretched a paw through to pull him to her. He settled alongside her and she waited with him to recover.
Tarzan and Tanya, were rescued from a circus in Guatemala and now live at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa (like Leo and his family). Tarzan’s lower lip was torn from his gum line down to his chin in a fight with a tiger in the circus. Tanya, a tiny lioness, her face scarred, her ear chewed, and the tip of her tail missing, almost certainly defended Tarzan. Certainly, that is what she does since their rescue, standing between Tarzan and perceived danger, and if she is ever spooked, Tarzan pushes his big face into hers to comfort her. They go to sleep each night with him washing her head. I have rarely seen such love and loyalty in any species as I do in these two.
In captivity, humans have trivialised the lives of lions in zoos, circuses, petting and canned hunting establishments, abused them and created untold problems with in-breeding. In the wild, trophy hunters have been allowed to fly in and asset strip their genetic diversity. We may never know what has already been lost from the gene pool in terms of disease resistance, longevity, physical strength or a strong heart or strong immune system, or character traits vital to their society.
If we cannot live alongside and preserve these incredible animals in the wild it will be a catastrophic human failure.”
Rescued lion Rey, seen here in his former deplorable conditions © Animal Defenders International
Rey, at his new safe home of the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa © Animal Defenders International
“Nicola and I are often lulled to sleep and woken by the roar of a lion”
~ Tony Park, Author
Drew Abrahamson, founder Captured In Africa Foundation, concludes;
“It’s testament to the hard work of individuals and organisations as we have seen here, that the lives of lions, as well as honest endeavours to right the wrongs of mankind, is alive and well. It’s takes a deep passion and unrelenting drive to assist conservation efforts in today’s often harsh world, where the lives of animals and people are at risk. This is why Captured In Africa Foundation will continue our on-the-ground initiatives, working closely with our partners and friends in conservation to ensure more is done for lions and other wildlife.”
Join us again on 10 August for World Lion Day and our finale, “Up Close & Personal”, featuring those on the ground in Africa, who live and work in the wonderful world of wild lions. They have a fascinating array of stories to share with us, which we look forward to bringing to you.