Celebrating a Lion today
Last week as I looked through the recording booth (via Zoom to a studio in London), it was to a famous actor while directing him through the words for our latest film. It was the voice of Scar from The Lion King that I was hearing!
This new movie will be our 16th film with Jeremy Irons, a very long and fruitful partnership. Last week’s recording session, and indeed this week’s celebration of World Lion Day, is the perfect storm of reflection for me, centred around the role of lions in the world.
Jeremy, Beverly and I spent a little time talking about this during the week-long sessions.
When we started Great Plains, we commissioned a study via the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative to identify lion pride distribution across Africa 15, 10, 5 years prior and where those trends would take them into the future. I used this trend for lions as a blueprint for Great Plains’ investments and its leases. Today, Duba Plains has some of the most incredible sightings of lions who swim. The Selinda pride has established and stabilised into picking up their original hippo hunting habits. In Zimbabwe’s Sapi Reserve, at Tembo Plains, a new ‘gang’ of young males promises to become the big males of the Zambezi. Kenya’s ol Donyo’s lions have become so comfortable that they are at the waterhole nowadays. Guests staying at Mara Plains Camp and Mara Nyika Camp have the opportunity to view multiple lions prides. One could do a Great Plains Lions safari across three countries and see the best of the best with us.
But why lions?
There are ecological solid and rational reasons to protect lions. Alan Savory studied grasslands and the effects of grazers for decades. The consistent takeaway for me is that the finest and most productive grasslands result from large herds of grazing animals being chased around by herding predators. Their hooves churn up the ground, sharp hooves that leave holes in the soil for rainwater to run into, unlocking the grass seed bank, and at the same time, fertilizing that patch of land. Let’s be frank; when large herding predators like lions are circling buffalo and zebras, they can be forgiven for loosening their bowels! Predators stimulate migrations, and the prey of Africa are forced into a perpetual cycle of fitness! As expressed in a highly scientific way in that film I mentioned earlier, it is the Circle of Life! And it is all thanks to lions.
This week we were probably all thrown into post-traumatic stress again, with the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calling for a red alert for humanity and the planet, and we really do need that.
But we should not overlook one of our greatest ambassadors and assets – a vast and diverse biomass of wildlife, each with a unique role in holding this planet together. But if it is biodiversity that is king here, it is the lions and other predators that help maintain it daily. If all the wildlife is all being kept fit and healthy by their top predators, those players, especially lions, in this case, need special attention.
There are deep-rooted spiritual reasons to pay attention to lions. I once conducted my own lion survey in the ten blocks radius surrounding the National Geographic Society building in Washington DC. I found more lion statues, flags and logos than in the wild like Hwange in Zimbabwe. Zulus and so many other people in Africa have names associated with lions (Ngonyama, for example) and kings around the world associate with lions.
Last week, Mopane, yet another famous lion in Hwange, was hunted, also from a pride related to Cecil. This is madness. When I was born, there were 450,000 lions free roaming in the wild. Today we estimate that there are perhaps less than 20,000. That is not a circle of life. Their demise is entirely our doing.
Lion scientist Rae Cokes called me some years ago about the idea of creating a World Day for lions. I chose 10th August for one reason. It was my brother’s birthday, and Keith Joubert, a famous wildlife artist, was indeed a lion amongst men. In particular, his art and sculptures of lions, including many of his oil paintings of lions, live on. So World Lion Day is special, for them, for the world, and me personally; It is personal.
Our collective responsibility is that these artworks do not become the only representations of this amazing cat – the most iconic on our planet.