‘From the beasts, I am the lion.’
Krishna to Arjuna
Bhagavad Gita, Ch.10, sl.30
After my discovery last year that communication with animals is possible, I looked up the website of the South African wildlife sanctuary ‘Jukani’, where Anna Breytenbach had talked with the black leopard Spirit with so dramatic consequences.
The website mentioned the possibility to work there as a volunteer.
So I contacted ‘Jukani: ’Could I come as a volunteer?
No, I could not – they have an age limit which I have surpassed by twenty years.
Could they please recommend another place where I could be accepted?
Yes, they could: ‘Panthera Africa’. A newly opened big cat sanctuary in South Africa, in Stanford, 145 km from Cape Town.
And so I ended up registering, at the end of May 2015, for a volunteer residency at ‘Panthera Africa’ to start six months later, when in Europe it is cold winter and in Africa bright summer.
Well, I had never been to Africa, never ever worked as a volunteer, and did not know anything about wildlife sanctuaries.
I had a vague idea that they resemble a natural park with animals roaming around, whereby these animals are rescued from Zoo’s, as Spirit had been, and are protected from human interference by laws, as a natural park is also protected.
The thought to see lions, tigers, leopards, caracals in their own habitat enticed me, as also the prospect to play with their cubs.
Sanjay, my husband, and me, remembered the lion Christian whom John Rendall and Anthony Bourke bought at Harrods and released later into the wilderness of Africa with the help of John Adamson. Perhaps I’ll bond as well with a lion cub, who will be overjoyed to see me, if we would visit him many years later?
The way humans treat domestic animals drives me to despair. When I found out, many years before, about the vivisection practiced in different areas of research, pharmaceutical, medical, cosmetic, chemical, the amount of pain I felt was unbearable, it made me ill. The pain is still there. I thought the wild animals may bring consolation. Yes, some wild animals are kept in bad conditions in Zoo’s, and have to be and are rescued, but at least wild animals are not tortured in laboratory experiments, or undergo the fate of the animals in the meat industry. The majority of them roam proudly and freely the African savannas. Yes, there are poachers, hunting especially elephants for their tusks, but they are punished once caught, aren’t they? To play with lion and leopard cubs who live protected and free, as I had seen in pictures of wildlife reserves, will heal wounds and restore faith in an orderly universe.
One week before the flight to Cape Town, I joined a seminar with Laila del Monte, to learn from her how to communicate with animals – on level one.
The winter before I had read many books on this topic, and I liked Laila del Monte’s the most. It had depth, structure, and style. I watched twice the documentary about her. I thought her to be wonderful, and when meeting her, I was not disappointed.
She is wonderful. Beautiful, tender, strong, gracious, ethical, and very perceptive.
In the seminar she offered tools I thought I’ll be able to use.
Armed with this fresh acquired knowledge, I embarked onto the new adventure.
In Dubai I said crying ‘Good bye’ to Sanjay, who flew further to India, while I boarded almost at the same time a plane to Africa.
After a journey of total 30 hours, on the morning of 6 December 2015, I landed in Cape Town.
Someone from the sanctuary would wait for me and take me there.
And someone did: Berna, one of the two permanent employees of Panthera Africa. The 2 hour drive was along the Whale Coast, between the Overberg mountain on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other. Nice, nice. I learned that the shrub vegetation I saw was called fynbos. ‘Fynbos,’ like many other names I came across, are to me both familiar and strange, as they are an adulterated form of Dutch.
We stopped in Hermanus, the town closest to the sanctuary, at a big shopping mall, to buy food from ‘Cheekers’, the supermarket. The breakfast and lunch were provided by the sanctuary, and Berna had to buy all the food needed for the next couple of days. I had to buy food for myself for the evenings. I quickly filled my basket with avocados, tomatoes, virgin olive oil, cheese and a deliciously smelling fresh rye bread, looking also curiously around.
‘Where are the black people?’ I wondered. The overwhelming majority of customers were white. The well dressed and manicured women who passed me exuded the confidence bestowed by financial and social security. Well, the blacks were present too, as I discovered, although in few numbers – as cleaners and cashiers wearing the Cheekers uniform.
The memory of the Apartheid made me alert to these aspects during my entire stay.
In the places of South Africa I visited – Hermanus, Stanford, Gansbaai, Cape Town, the black population seemed to have barely recovered its dignity, or to have bridged the chasm separating it from the standard of living and self -assured demeanor of the white population.
The social tapestry reminded me of Australia – the social position and the look of the black population resembling the one of the Aboriginal Australians – destitute.
During the drive I came to know that the work at the sanctuary started every morning at eight with a short gathering of the two founders/owners of the sanctuary, Berna herself and the volunteers, at that moment, five in number.
The tasks for the day were distributed, and the team moved on to execute them. Most of the work was done with the whole team, and sometimes with two of the volunteers, but never alone.
All five volunteers were at the sanctuary since longer time and had previous experience with this kind of work.
The food for the breakfast was provided, but everybody made his/her own breakfast. By eight the table had to be clean, as the gathering started.
She, Berna, or another staff member cooked the lunch, served around 1 PM.
Berna, who had impressed me immediately with her huge strong stature, was born and grew up on a farm near Hermanus. She had two horses and a cat, was obviously an animal lover. It made me smile, the difference between our perceptions, of which I was very aware – all too familiar for her, all too new for me. She mentioned that the day before the normal spotted leopard called Zorro had died. ‘Why?’ I inquired. Because of an operation which went wrong. She said something about the operation, but I did not understand what it was about. I was asking already so many questions, I did not press for details.
Eventually we reached Panthera Africa – a large piece of land, flat, with fynbos and few trees, mountain hills as backdrop, and, as I was to discover, bright light and heat during days, cool nights, magic orange-red-purple sunsets and an amazing night sky, sprinkled with thousands of stars.
The two founders, Lizaene – South African, and Cat, originally from Norway, said ‘Welcome’ and ‘Good bye’ in one sentence, as they were heading for five days holiday. They were both in their thirties, pretty and slim, and in a hurry.
We had lunch, to my relief, vegetarian. I met the five volunteers, of which three were due to leave soon – time for them to go back to their countries and to their families.
Yet this, at Panthera Africa, was a family too, as I perceived, sitting with them at the lunch table, trying to memorize their names. I was charmed by the red hair of.…..what was her name? yes, Linsay, the Scottish young lady, by her freckles and her laugh, and by the glitters on the face of Dannii, combined with piercings and a heavy sea green amulet around her neck. Dannii told me later that she started to put glitters on her face when she was a little girl, and never gave it up, as it made her happy. This was a soul family, I felt. The soul family of the animal lovers. It felt good to be there. I was by far the oldest member, and this did not change until my departure – I was between 30 and 50 years older than everybody else. The lunch was delicious.
Later I ventured alone to find my bearings on the ‘farm’, as the volunteers often call the sanctuary. I saw wide spaces enclosed by wires. In one of them, far away, I got a glimpse of a white lion. Opposite it, in a similar enclosed wide space, another white lion was sitting close to the fence, quiet, looking at me. I was so impressed with his regal demeanor, that almost involuntarily I bowed to him, in my mind with the words ‘Your Majesty’. He was without doubt magnificent. But still: ‘Are there white lions,’ I wondered – ‘I thought lions were tawny?!’
Later I learned that white lions are indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa, and are considered by the native population as divine.
Somehow, the scenery, including white lions instead of brown ones, did not look like the safari landscapes I had seen on National Geographic.
I felt disoriented, and went back to the house which I did not lose out of sight, so that I don’t get lost.
I slept for many hours, woke up, ate avocado and tomatoes with rye bread, and slept again.
The next morning at 9.30 AM, Dannii, volunteer & staff member, with glitters around her eyes and a long blond tress hanging under a blue cap with
‘Panthera Africa’ written on it, took me to the reception to get ready for the tourist tour. The reception – a wooden hut at the entrance to the sanctuary, decorated with pictures of lions and tigers, and stocked with items for sale – T-shirts with printed leopards and lions, caps with ‘Panthera Africa’, placemats with giraffes and rhino’s, had a welcoming atmosphere.
Besides Tuesday, the sanctuary offers daily, at 10 AM and 3 PM, educational visits of one to one and a half hours, conducted either by Berna or Dannii, attended mostly by 15 -20 people.
That Monday morning, out of whatever reason, only three people showed up: a Swedish couple, well mannered, well dressed, good looking, well educated, and their baby of eight months, who slept well behaved during the entire tour in his trolley.
We moved from one enclosure to the other, and Dannii gave information about their inhabitants. The visitor tours are conceived as educational tours, and I expected details about the habits of the animals, their character, perhaps about the predicament which brought them here. The first enclosure belonged to the caracals, fantastic looking cats with long black ears as if from a science fiction movie. I came to know that they run 60 km per hour, can leap 3 meters high and catch a bird in flight. One for one Dannii introduced to us the three caracals: Amy, whose mother abandoned her. She almost died of dehydration and starvation, but grew in the sanctuary into a healthy, strong cat. Jack, the most relaxed and loving out of the three. Max, who during my stay became more fierce and possibly injured Amy during feeding. Amy sadly needed to be taken to the vet for the wound to be sewn, one of the many unpredictable events occurring almost on daily basis.
I don’t know why jackals got such a bad name among humans. They were so shy, that tourists were not taken to their enclosure, in order not to stress them. They look incredible cute. In spite of their shyness, they like human attention, and one of the tasks for the volunteers, the easiest, relaxed and quiet task, was to spend some time by their enclosure, reading a book or daydreaming. Lucy, Cody and Maya would appear from behind the bushes, look for a moment, and run away with a very funny inimitable trot.
The enclosure of the jackals, the only one not shown to tourists, is situated at the farthest end from the entrance to the sanctuary, and the nearest end to the farmhouse where everybody stays: the volunteers, Lizaene, Cat, and Joseph, the only black person at the sanctuary. He supports his siblings who live in Cape Town, is always smiling and laughing, and does all the heavy work.
From the caracals we moved with the Swedish couple and the trolley to the enclosure of Pardus, or Lalla, as she is affectionately called by the volunteers. Pardus aka Lalla is the black leopard.
On the fence was a board with two names: Pardus and Zorro. I remembered that Zorro had died two days before. The operation was a vasectomy, informed us Dannii, with tears in her eyes. ‘A vasectomy?!’ I could not believe my ears. Dannii explained: ‘Panthera Africa has as policy no breeding, no interaction of the public with the animals, and no selling. It is one of the seven true sanctuaries from 179 registered in South Africa. All others are in truth breeding and hunting farms, perpetrating what is known as the cycle of the ‘Canned hunting industry.’ I was aghast.
‘In the breeding farms, true breeding factories, the cubs, for example lion cubs, are separated from their mother almost immediately after their birth. This causes terrible stress to the mother and the cubs. The cubs are looked after and hand reared by volunteers, who pay for this lots of money, believing that the lions, once adults, will be released into the wild. As soon as the cubs are able to feed themselves, they are rented out to other so called ‘sanctuaries’, where tourists come to pet them and take pictures with them. This brings further stress, as they are touched day in day out by hundreds of people. They lose fur and get diarrhea. When they are too old to be pet, but not yet adults, they are used for walking with again hundreds of tourists. When they are adults, they are sold to the hunting farms. There they are kept in small enclosures, so that the so called ‘hunters’, for a steep amount of money, can easily kill them at close distance with guns or laser guns. ‘The proud and courageous hunters fly then home with a well-deserved trophy,’ is what the public at large is made to believe. In truth they are cowards who shoot innocent, defenseless living beings without confronting any risk whatsoever. Adult tigers are mostly sold to China, where they are killed for their bones – one kg of tiger bones pays 18.000 US $. The lionesses in the breeding farms are forced to breed two to three litters of cubs a year. In the wild, lionesses breed once in two to three years. None of the rescued animals from these breeding factories can be ever released into the wild – by being born in captivity, separated from their mothers and hand reared by humans they are here for completely unfit. A true sanctuary does not breed, does not sell and does not allow visitors to interact with the animals.
This is why Zorro had to be vasectomized and died. Only 3 % of the facilities who call themselves ‘sanctuaries’ are true sanctuaries. Panthera Africa is one of them, one of seven. The owners of the breeding factories earn money from the volunteers, from the ‘petting and walking sanctuaries’ and from the selling at the end of the cycle. The hunting farms earn money from allowing so called ‘hunters’ to kill the helpless animals. It is a billion dollars business.’
Dannii’s account crushed on me and broke my heart. In front of the next enclosure, of two lions, Oliver and Obi, were the photographs of them from the time – eight months before, when they were rescued. They looked emaciated, Obi on the verge of dying. There were two more photographs: one of the food they were getting at the breeding farm – a bone with some rotten meat attached to it, and of the water – dirty.
Later I read in an article that many breeding and hunting farms owners are Apartheid criminals, some who got and others who did not get amnesty.
Back to the house, after the tour, during the lunch, I could perceive, under the small talk and laugh, an underlying layer of confusion and deep sadness caused by the death of the leopard, Zorro. I looked at Zorro’s photographs hanging on the wall: a most beautiful white cat with brown rosettes and intelligent, playful, inquisitive eyes. Lizaene and Cat did not go on holidays, they were grieving and withdrew for a couple of days. I had arrived in a community struck by tragedy. I felt in shock.
Back into my room, I tried to read something, with little success. I could not concentrate. I fall again in sleep. I woke up towards the evening, ate avocados, tomatoes and rye bread, and went back to sleep.
The next morning I woke up at five. I was in so much pain from what I had heard, that I did not know what to do. I went out, with the thought to see the majestic looking lion, Neptune.
The white lion was sitting close to the fence, and I plumped down in front of him.
I told him aloud everything what I had found out, how much it pained me – too much to be able to cry. I told him about the breeding and hunting farms, about Zorro, deprived of the right to sire cubs and at a much too young age, of his life, about the meat industry, the vivisection laboratories, the mistreated and abandoned pets, I poured out to him my heart.
The lion looked at me, surprised by such an early visit with a truck of emotions unloaded at his feet. When I got up, I saw in the enclosure behind me, sitting close to the fence, another white lion. Unmistakable Neptune. I understood that in my confusion I had told my story to the white lion I had glimpsed far away the day of my arrival – to Oliver, and not to Neptune.
I did not know what to do – tell it again to Neptune, or leave it as it was and go back to the house? I went to the house and prepared for the day – my first working day.
From then on, whenever we passed Oliver’s enclosure, when seeing me, Oliver became alert and followed my every movement. A couple of times, unexpectedly, he run towards me, and stopped just before the electric wire.
‘You wear a colorful shirt’, or: ‘You are so tiny, for him you are a child’ were some of the explanations my colleagues found for his unflinching attention. Every time I answered joking ‘I don’t know if I should feel flattered or scared’. But I thought that he just finds me weird.
There is a lot of work to do: the water bowls have to be cleaned – all the old water scooped out, the cement floor scraped, and the bowl refilled with fresh water; the enclosures have to be cleaned of pooh and bones from the previous meal. Everything has to be done fast and precise, not to stress the animals out with our presence. Every time it is deeply satisfying to do this, to know that the animals have fresh water and clean earth to walk upon. The animals have to be fed – at 10 AM Joseph, or Adam, or Stig leave for neighboring farms to collect chickens or red meat – everything donated.
Between the cleaning and the feeding, lots of other things have to be done. There is always a new project going on. During my stay, the project in progress was the enrichment camp, a huge undertaking.
Because none of the animals will ever be released into the wild, their life in captivity has to be made interesting by providing them with new sensorial and cognitive input. Almost every day volunteers create, from cardboard boxes, pieces of wood, dry and fresh flowers, branches, jute threads, chicken feathers, cardboard egg boxes, and whatever else suitable they come across objects which are placed into the enclosures to be discovered, smelled, tasted, and torn apart. Peanut butter, honey, cinnamon, oregano, mint, other herbs, raw pasta, are tucked into parts of the objects.
Every week each animal has to receive at least one object which enriches his life.
The enrichment activities are registered in a notebook: who got what when – and the reaction to it, for the crafting of future objects.
The enrichment camp takes the enrichment policy one step further: a new enclosure has been built in the middle of the enclosures where the animals stay: the enrichment camp. It has low gates oriented towards all the other enclosures, and a tall gate for humans. The low gates can be attached, through a moveable tunnel, to new gates made with this goal in the enclosures of the lions, the tigers and the leopard.
The animals can enter by rotation the enrichment camp, to climb poles, moveable platforms, to scratch tree trunks, to play, to smell the animals who have been there before, and just to be for a while in another space than the one they live in all the time.
This new enclosure, besides different heavy construction aspects it needed, had to be cleaned of pieces of iron wires and piles of cement stones left by the constructors, and the wood pieces holding portions of the gates had to be painted with tar. This became for a couple of days the task for Perry, an attractive brave young woman from Norway, in the last phase of her biology study, and me.
Every day we had to prepare for Obi, the half tawny half white lion, and Jubatus, a tawny lion, what we called ‘the herbs’: first to cut big chunks of red meat into smaller pieces, then cut in the small pieces pockets in which we hide herbs for joints and Omega 3 capsules. Obi when he arrived, had severe health problems due to malnutrition in the breeding camp from where he had been rescued. Dannii, with her inexhaustible energy and dedication, had raised funds for the herbs and supplements through her own fundraising company: Purrfect World International. This was another daily task for me: to put the herbs and the capsules into the meat pockets cut by one of the other volunteers – Lesley, Haimish, Perry.
Every day the caracals needed extra enrichment because of their exposure to tourist and volunteer interaction at the previous breeding project they came from, the jackals needed human presence, one of the tigers, Arabella, loved having one of us to walk with her – she on one side of the fence, the volunteer on the other side. Arabella, of spellbinding beauty, which I never stopped to marvel at, had been separated from her mother when she was born, got seriously ill of a virus which attacked her brain, and stayed alive thanks to the intensive care from the vet and the people who hand raising her. Much later, after being relocated to a breeding farm, she witnessed the shooting of her brother with whom she had been inseparable. When she was rescued, her vision was impaired from her illness as a cub, and she had the habit to talk to herself and the people around her. An animal communicator, asked to find out how Arabella feels and what extra’s she needs, found out that she likes to walk next to a human. This became for a while another task of mine, to walk with Arabella.
Without knowing anything about sanctuaries, I was lucky to come to a true one, and on top of it, one where the staff had recently followed a course to learn to communicate with animals. The communicator also talked to each and every one of the animals about their special needs. This is how the staff came to know that the caracals need to play a lot, the jackals like human presence, and Arabella likes to be walked.
Soon I fall in love with Arabella. Not during one of our walks. I was sitting near to her enclosure, in front of Lalla’s enclosure, sewing a jute bag filled with 75 kg sand, three times Lalla’s weight – the weight Lalla, as all leopards, can lift and carry in her mouth. The bag was offered to visitors to lift, to give them an idea about the strength of Lalla’s neck muscles. I saw Arabella walking in her enclosure while talking to herself, and the sight pierced my heart. Since that moment I love her deeply. Stig, a Norwegian volunteer who came for only two weeks, in which he worked like a steam machine at the enrichment camp, had fallen in love with Arabella too, during his previous stay at Panthera Africa. He had tattooed her name on his left arm.
The work tempo was high, and the tasks numerous and often unexpected. Yet there were always moments for a short talk heart to heart, and I came to know some of the volunteers well. They are all gems. Their dedication to the wellbeing of the animals is extraordinary. Their love, like mine, unconditional. I think it is the closest we, humans, can come to universal love. Guys, I love you all: Cat, Lizaene, Joseph, Berna, Dannii, Adam, Perry, Haimish, Lesley, Stig, Stina, Chris, Anna.
On Tuesdays we bought groceries and had leisure time. Twice we drove to Kleinrivier, the river running through Stanford, one time for a swim, at sunset, with the backdrop mountain turning golden, and another time to kayak.
We visited an amazing Neolithic cave in a rock high above the shore of the Atlantic, from where we could view the deep blue water of the ocean.
My early morning lament in front of Oliver did not bring catharsis.
I was still deeply harrowed by everything I had come to know. If Dannii was riding the crest of the emotions the place could evoke – bliss, I was at the trough of the wave, mourning.
Meanwhile I fall in love with the white – tawny lion Obi. I found him very sweet, and his gentle nature captures my heart.
In the evening, when all work was finished, after having taken a shower and changed into clean clothes, I went often to see Arabella, Obi and Neptune. I liked to sit in front of Neptune. My thoughts became usually clearer and deeper feelings emerged. His presence had a pacifying effect. Usually, after a while, he got up and walked away. The audience was over.
I remembered an audience I had once with the Dalai Lama, in front of his house in McLeod Ganj. He was standing in the middle of the courtyard, and one for one the Tibetans – I was the only present white European, bowed to him and gave him a white silk scarf for blessing. The Dalai Lama gave me a hand, which I shook with some surprise.
The moment I entered the courtyard, a deep peace descended upon me – the same peace I experienced later in front of a hundreds of years old statue of Buddha in the Lamayuru monastery in Ladakh. The same peace I found now in the presence of Neptune.
Two – three weeks into my stay, I found out another disturbing, deeply unsettling fact: the red meat the animals got two – three times a week, donated by neighboring farms, was the flesh of horses shot dead because they were injured in some way. The day I discovered this, a 1 ½ year young horse had been shot dead because of severe joint problems. He was a race horse, and I suspected that the joint damage was because of extreme training conditions. There are about 20 different obstacles horses have to learn to negotiate, and the difficulty of doing so, under lots of pressure, is often unmanageable. Besides damage to the joints, the lungs of the horses can bleed, and the stress makes many develop gastric ulcers. Or they get injured during a competition, which makes them useless as well.
So this was the red meat our lions, tigers, leopard, caracals and jackals received.
The owners donated the dead horses because they saved in this way the labor and costs to bury them, or drive them away.
The wretchedness hit me. In the evening, I went deeply troubled to Neptune and told him what I had discovered.
Until then, I was mourning the fate of the lions, tigers, leopards in the breeding and hunting factories. Sitting that evening with Neptune, I understood his and all the other rescued animals’ plight: disabled to fend for themselves in the wild for the rest of their lives, they were condemned to a life of total dependency from humans. From us, their rescuers. Without us, they would die of hunger and thirst. We were their saviors and at the same time, it is true, for their own sake, their jailors, lifelong.
Instead of getting their food through hunting in the wild, they got as food the flesh of animals killed by humans because they weren’t any more of use, due to maltreatment, and sometimes, to old age.
The wild animals had to be rescued because they were treated as commodities, and they got flesh of animals who had been killed because they too were considered commodities.
You might think now: but the lions, tigers, leopards, they also kill – innocent deer’s, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, isn’t it? They kill, we kill, what is the difference? Why condemn humans?
Well, here are my answers:
1) We know too little about the ecological consequences of predators in nature in order to compare it to our own behavior and extract from it any kind of ‘license’, both towards wild animals as towards domestic animals. See the chain of events – the so called ‘trophic cascade,’ after wolves, extinct for a century through conscious human intervention, have been brought back into the Yellowstone Natural Park: the deer population which had proliferated and had grazed all vegetation away diminished, as a result bare valleys became forests of aspen, willows and cottonwood; as a result the birds came back, as also the beavers, who are ‘ecosystem engineers’, they create niches for other species; as a result otters, muscrats and ducks appeared, and in the river fish, reptiles and amphibians; the wolves killed coyotes, as a result mice and rabbits came back, which meant more hawks, ravens and eagles, and more weasels, foxes, bears and badgers; last but not least: the rivers meandered less, and stopped to erode the banks and the soil. The physical geography of the immense area of the Yellowstone National Park was thus stabilized. Predators have an ecological function we barely know about. Compare this with the ecological disasters we bring upon the planet.
2) The animals which predators kill in nature led a good natural life in freedom before being caught. They also have a chance to run away from the predators, as mostly the weakest of the pride are the ones killed. And the number is contained, as they are hunted only when the predators are hungry.
3) Concerning our killing of animals to eat their flesh: Before the advent of the meat industry, the slaughter of an animal was a ritual performed once in a while: a goat was slaughtered once a week, a pig once or twice a year. Meat was a weekly feast, often even less frequent. Before being slaughtered, these animals had a good life in the fields, with enough space to move, in the company of other animals, and mostly being taken care of, as they were considered a wealth. No comparison whatsoever with the modern meat industry, where they live a life of torture, undergoing unspeakable cruelties, and are killed in mass in horrendous slaughterhouses. Actually, when we eat meat, we eat pain, fear, despair. Our killing of animals cannot be compared with the killing of animals by predators in nature.
The feeding of the big cats at Panthera Africa with the meat of horses shot dead because they have become useless to their owners appeared to me as the quintessence of the wretchedness we humans have brought onto the animals: we need sanctuaries for wild animals because we have robbed them of their natural life and treat them as commodities – see the documentary: ‘Blood Lions’ by Pippa Hankinson, and we feed them with domestic animals which we treat as commodities as well. We treat the whole world as a commodity, existing only for our pleasures.
Lately we treat our own health as a commodity, by privatizing national health care, what happened in Netherlands 2008 onwards. Actually, we are lost, and we drag in our wreckage all life on Earth, ours included.
I told all this to Neptune, who listened quietly.
Listening to his silence, I understood the following:
On the whole, his attitude was one of helpless nobility in the face of great suffering. About himself, he felt relieved to live in safety, and to be treated with respect.
After he made his position clear, he stood up and walked away.
I felt deep sadness, and for a while, more calm.
The last evening at the sanctuary I went to say ‘Good bye’ to Arabella and Obi.
After that I sat for a long time in front of Neptune, one meter apart, separated by the fence. To be in silent communion with a lion is one of the greatest presents life can give you.
After I left Neptune, on the way to the farmhouse, I met Oliver, sitting not far from the fence, looking at me. I said to him ‘Good bye’ too, and I heard him saying ‘I had to keep an eye on you, because you are unpredictable.’ He made me laugh, and I came in good spirits back to the house.
The next morning my five week stay at the wildlife sanctuary came to an end, and I left Panthera Africa.
Neptune, Arabella, Obi, Oliver, Jubatus, Achilles, Pardus, Raise, Amy, Jack, Max, Cody, Maya, Lucy – you will always be in my heart. I’ll never forget you.