All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Last Lions Of Africa by Anthony Ham

on August 20, 2020

The Last Lions Of Africa: Stores from the frontline in the battle to save a species
Anthony Ham
Allen & Unwin
2020, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

An incredible and moving account of one man’s journey into the world of lions, why they are fast disappearing and what can be done to save them from extinction and thus save Africa, whose delicate ecosystem depends on these apex predators to keep everything in balance.

In 2011, Australian journalist Anthony Ham embarked on a journey into the world of lions. Haunted by the idea that they might disappear from the planet in our lifetime, he ventured deep into Sub-Saharan wilderness, seeking answers from conservation researchers, zoologists, local activists, and traditional peoples alike as to why lions are disappearing and what can be done to save them from extinction.

In The Last Lions, Anthony brings readers with him on his quest, along the way revealing the latest extraordinary science surrounding the earth’s dwindling lion populations and their surprising relationship to mankind. Each chapter is part gripping campfire story, part deeply researched investigation of lion habitats, and a jumping off point to explore larger mysteries of the natural world. Through Anthony’s vivid storytelling – which weaves together natural history, ancient lore, and multidisciplinary science – we glimpse a world where human populations are growing and wild lands are shrinking; where lions and indigenous peoples fight not for reign of the land but for their very existence. By the book’s end, readers will be enlightened, entertained, and engaged with the fate of these embattled creatures and the surprising ways they might be saved.

My favourite animals in the world are little penguins but after that, it’s the African 3 – lions, giraffes and rhinos. One of my dreams is to be able to see them in a safari park rather than just in a zoo but it’s a dream that requires something like a lotto win to be able to achieve. I think that battling the extinction of some species is a challenge faced every day and in some cases, it’s infinitely more difficult. Lions seem like they are one of the difficult ones.

For starters, they are pretty much at the top of the food chain which makes them a threat to both people and the livestock those people own and farm. And in recent times, they’ve become a lucrative ‘trophy’ for rich, generally white and foreign hunters who pay the big bucks to come and shoot a lion to take the head home and mount it on their wall or something. I have nothing but disdain for big trophy hunters, standing proudly beside pictures of dead giraffes, lions, etc feeling impressed with themselves for being able to ‘stare down a predator and win’. This book details one of the most notorious kills, which was the lion known as Cecil, who lived in a park in Zimbabwe. He was being tracked as part of a research project when he was shot with a crossbow by a dentist named Walter Palmer from America in what was almost certainly an illegal kill. Because he only injured Cecil and he ran off, Palmer and his guides waited until the next morning to track him and finish him off, leaving him overnight in what was probably agonising pain. It caused international outrage for lots of reasons, not just because of the general opinion of big game hunting. This was done in a way where at least some of the party would’ve been clear that there were no permits in that park for lions that year and the way in which he died, was terrible. They also tried to mimic his movements and then hide his tracking device, when they realised they’d shot a lion with a collar. Five months after his death, the US added lions to the endangered species list, making it a lot harder for their citizens to legally kill them.

Whilst it’s easy to see big game hunting as a black and white issue, the book does attempt to present it in a way where it can be beneficial to conservation as a whole. By limiting it to older male lions who have had a chance to populate the game parks with their offspring, selectively removing one or two from the gene pool helps keep the populations varied and allows younger lions a chance to move into prime positions. And parks can use the money people are willing to pay, to plow into further programs of conservation. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, because it just honestly, seems like such a jerk thing to do, shooting animals just for the sake of it, but I do see the point that Ham and probably several of the park managers are trying to make. Sometimes, for an impact, you have to make a small sacrifice for the greater good.

This book is divided into chapters focusing on a particular area/park and detailing the population there, the challenges faced in preserving it and the stories of the broader community. There are several really interesting stories but I think honestly, the one that struck me the deepest, was the ‘last lion of Liuwa’. A female lion who was believed to be the last lion in a particular area – and probably had been for many years. She had survived on her own when lions, particularly female lions, are generally surrounded by their own relatives – their mother, sisters, grandmothers, cubs. When she encountered humans, she followed them and they eventually realised, that she was lonely. She was seeking their company. And honestly, that just hit me so hard, I wanted to cry. Imagine being the only one of your kind, for most of your life. These huge, majestic animals, you don’t think of one on her own, for years and years, roaming around, never finding companions, a tribe. She must’ve had one at some stage and then lost them, or was forced to flee. There was a whole chapter on how they tried to introduce more lions to the area, to build up the population again and give Lady Liuwa some companions. It was heartbreakingly sad but hopeful as well and it was probably my favourite chapter within the book. And I feel like in many ways, it epitomises the struggle of conserving all the lions – ideas, innovation, plans, one step forward, two steps back, grief, hope, more plans. It’s a difficult endeavour that is always going to have a lot of problems to overcome and plans will have to evolve and change.

I really enjoyed this. Conservation is something you think about but you don’t think about a lot of the actual challenges. It’s like oh, save the lions, so they don’t become extinct but it isn’t that easy. Nothing is that easy, especially with a growing human population, a struggle for land that is large enough to support populations, the threat of hunters both illegal and not. In some cases, there’s an arbitrary line between where it’s safe for a lion to be and where they can be picked off by a hunter if they step to the other side of it. Lions and wildlife don’t understand lines drawn in the sand or even fences. They’re roamers, the males in particular, who fight for and to keep territory and see off threats from other lions who want what they have. One misstep and that can be it.

There are some really beautiful and thought provoking stories in here, rich with history and more. There’s so much I don’t know or understand about various parts of Africa and it’s quite surreal to read about people who live in quite close proximity to lions. I can’t really imagine that! There’s one chapter in the book that details just how dangerous that can be. Recently I read a book set in the nearish future where so many species of wildlife had been declared extinct and reading this, you can see how vulnerable lions are and how tough it’s going to be to keep wild populations flourishing without impacting on local communities.


Book #163 of 2020


One response to “Review: The Last Lions Of Africa by Anthony Ham

  1. This review made me cry in the middle! 😭

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: