An Open Letter To Africa’s Lions
Jacalyn Beales – A Very Personal Declaration
An Open Letter To Africa’s Lions – Let me begin this letter by apologizing. I, along with every individual who’s ever pet, played with, cuddled or paid to interact with you, owe you an apology. We owe you not just one, however; we owe you many.
I owe you an apology, because of that one time I went to the wildlife safari not far from my hometown and thought it was beneficial to you if I paid to drive through your living space and stare at you in awe, actually believing that you could be happy in a drive-through zoo as a spectacle of entertainment.
They owe you an apology, because petting you got you killed. Because playing with you earned money for the park that took you from your mother too young. Because paying to cuddle you meant yet another lioness had to watch idly as her own children were stolen from her to be cuddled and ‘cared for’ by someone else; someone who could never do they job she was born to do. Because petting you sealed your fate in a canned hunt.
On behalf of every ignorant tourist who believed the lies of a park or lodge; of every eager young volunteer fooled into thinking they were helping you, when they were simply hindering you; on behalf of every naive parent who has taught their child that it’s ok to pet you: I am sorry. And though one apology doesn’t erase years of hunting, poaching, depletion and cruelty to your species by the hands of us, for now, I can only offer this most sincere apology.
I grew up believing that every lion in every enclosure in every zoo, was there for a reason. Because you were abandoned by your mother, and you needed zookeepers to help keep you alive. Perhaps you were a rare breed, and a zoo wanted to study you and conserve your species. Maybe you were ill, and the zoo was your only chance at a real life and a forever home. I believed you were happy; whether it was a zoo in North America or a park in South Africa. I thought you were happy, healthy, and fulfilled.
What I never knew, and wouldn’t learn until I was much older, was that you were never happy. And you never will be. Not as long as the world continues to spin on its greedy, ignorant, self-centred axis. As I’ve grown up, I’ve watched the plight of your species grow and grow and manifest itself into an ugly disease. Like a tumour, the threat to your kind has grown, becoming increasingly alarming and so life-threatening that your species could be extinct before I am even slightly cold in my own grave.
I am approaching my twenty-third year of life on this Earth, and you could be gone – simple vanishing – before I am even too old to be able to walk without a cain or put my dentures in a warm glass of water by the nightstand each evening. That frightens me. It saddens me. It angers me. But it doesn’t anger, frighten or sadden the government.
As you waste away in your enclosures too cramped and overpopulated with your fellow lions to even reach the water pit; whilst you listen to your mother cry out at night for you after being ripped from her grasp and dragged from her; as yet another stranger gawks over you and pays for your suffering … the government does nothing. They stand idly by, watching your species dwindle, waiting for the next dollar to float in as yet another one of your brothers, sisters, parents, friends, cousins, are shot. Killed. Murdered. For a trophy. For sport. Because we humans have nothing better to do nor nothing better to spend our money on, than killing you. All so we can hang your head on a wall, post a picture of your dead body on Facebook, or use your hide as a rug.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that CITES claims to help regulate trophy importation from Africa, but is actually useless and does nothing. I apologize that the South African government spends more money on furnishing the lives of its leaders and officials rather than helping its people, and its wildlife, succeed and thrive. I’m sorry that associations like PHASA allow you to be hunted, whilst claiming that hunting your kind is ‘ethical’and will help ‘conserve’your species, when we both know it won’t.
I’m sorry that the UAE allows teenagers to keep you and other large cat species as pets; because a young man really needs a pet lion, doesn’t he? But what I’m most sorry for, is cub petting. I’m sorry about the canned hunting and the poaching; but it all starts with cub petting. And I’m sorry for that.
I’m ashamed to tell you that, even after taking up the fight to help save you, I had only ever watched one canned hunting video. I was so repulsed and disgusted by mankind by the time the three-minute video was over, that I simply couldn’t stomach watching another. I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t watch it; a Youtube or Facebook video of an ignorant white male from America or Europe laughing as they shoot one of you repeatedly in the head, the chest, the stomach. All from less than one hundred feet away. They lock you in an enclosed space and wait as you approach them, so trusting and habituated to their presence because, after all, you were raised by humans.
The moment your mother birthed you, you were taken from her. Handled, cuddled, petted by humans who thought they could raise you better than your own mother. So you see these people standing by a truck and you think nothing of them; they look like the same foolish, naive people who raised you. Then they whip out large guns and they shoot you. All the while, the park you were raised in, the one you and so many of your kind have been factory-farmed in, laughs and smiles at your death as they count their wad of dollar bills.
I sit here at my desk, on the other side of the world, wondering how I am going to battle the -40 weather here in Canada; and I watch this happen to you on Youtube and I swallow back tears because, I am helpless. Because, by the time I’ve finished watching this three-minute video, more than enough of you will have already been killed the same way again. And I can do nothing to stop it.
But that isn’t true. I can do something to stop it.
I can fight the fight that you can’t. I can be the voice that you have but that humans do not listen to. I can make a roar for you, because when you roar, humans think it’s cute when coming from a cub, or scary when coming from an adult lion.
I can march for you, so the world, the governments and these foolish conventions/societies/associations/regulatory bodies know that they will be stopped. That we are here for you, and one day, the murder and pain and suffering will end. I can fight for you with my words, my knowledge, my actions and my awareness. And together, we can look forward to a better, brighter future for you.
But until that future is solidified, I can only work alongside the other people and organizations who seek to help rebuild your future. The same people who inspired me to help rebuild that future. See, I want to live a long, prosperous life; and I want the same for you. Just as I would want my own children to live a happy life, so do I want the exact same for you.
So, the next time you are petted, cuddled, walked with or gawked at by a human, remember this: your suffering is not forgotten. It does not go unnoticed. You are not forgotten. We are working arduously to ensure a better future, a better world, for you and your species. Though we experience setbacks and tragedy, we do not stop fighting. Know that, as sorry as we are and as ashamed as we cannot help but be of the human race, you are loved, cared for and thought of everyday.
In everything we do to fight for your rights and welfare, you are always considered. You give us hope for the future, and that is something we can never be sorry for.