Well known for his work on the African lion, Gareth Patterson is an environmentalist, independent wildlife researcher, public speaker and author who has worked for more than 25 years for greater protection of African wildlife. Read Garth's piece on the symbolic and literal importance of lions:
The lion is the animal symbol of the African continent. Symbolising wisdom, protection, courage and royalty, humankind has drawn on its powerful symbolism in religion and culture throughout the ages. Today, it is still commonly used for corporate logos and other branding, but, if we want the lion to live on beyond its status on badges, buildings and books, we need to increase our awareness and protection of it.
From the almost quarter of a million lions that roamed Africa’s plains and valley’s 25 years ago, less than 20 000 lions exist today. Trophy hunting by wealthy foreigners, the loss of habitat and conflict with livestock owners have caused this drastic decline in the species and amongst other animals too.
Fortunately, reading has made the public aware of the plight of the lion. Today, very few people have not read about Cecil, the now famous lion, who in July 2015 was illegally lured out of the safety of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and shot dead by US trophy hunter Walter Palmer. Through the media, and people reading about Cecil’s cruel death, he almost overnight became the most famous lion in the world, and Palmer one of the most disliked people.
Other lions have also become known globally because of people reading about their lives. In 1960, for example, a book about a lioness called Elsa was published. Titled ‘Born Free’, it became a bestseller with some five million copies in about 30 different languages sold worldwide. It was a story that touched millions of people’s hearts and changed public perception about lions. Previously perceived as a fearsome animal, the lion became one of the best-loved animals in the world after its publication.
Books and stories allow us to engage and connect with people, places and animals outside of our immediate environment. They are also an easy way of exploring the world with children, who are naturally curious about the world around them. By introducing books and stories about animals, caregivers have a wonderful opportunity to discuss how best to treat animals – both at home and in the wild – and why we need to preserve and protect them. Animal stories can be found in picture books, storybooks and textbooks, or you might just tell an animal story. However you decide to share it, tell an animal story before our lions and other animals are just words and drawings on the page.
To check out some of our favourite stories with animals, click here.