The Call of the Wild
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
The Call of the WildWhy I save the white lions.
Living in a hut in Timbavati, South Africa I exchanged my designer suits and heels for jeans and boots. Even though my friends and family thought I was crazy, they knew I had to do this.
My first direct contact with a white lion was a female cub named Tendile. She belonged to Ed Hern, who owned the Rhino and Lion Reserve, about a 45-minute drive from Johannesburg.
Hern was hand-rearing the cub, but within weeks of her birth, trophy hunters were asking him how much they would have to pay him for the chance to hunt her. To my profound relief, Hern remained unswayed.
Given the white lions' rarity, it is not surprising that they mean big revenue, especially throughout the “canned” lion trophy industry, which breeds lions in captivity in order to be shot by paying customers. Despite public outcry, it is a practice that draws clients from prosperous countries.
On the two occasions I visited Tendile. Seeing her grow into a magnificent lioness, I knew that I wanted to save these animals.
I was told that I would be sent a sign to show me what I had to do next. I was somewhat disbelieving, but then I heard from a friend about a white lioness cub that had been born in a “canned” hunting camp in a town called Bethlehem, in South Africa's Free State province, on Christmas Day.
It was the only sign I needed—I knew then that I would not rest until I had freed this cub and brought her to Timbavati.
Her name was Marah and I was able to make a secret visit to the camp to see her. She was like a little lion lamb, and I fell in love with her on sight.
To get her out, I enlisted the help of the courts and, fortunately for me, because Marah's father had been stolen from a zoo, it meant the zoo had a legal right to demand that she be handed over. The camp was raided by the police and Marah was rescued.
The plan had been for me to take her to Timbavati and set her free, but the zoo, realizing that they had a prime genetic specimen for breeding, now refused to hand her over. I returned to the courts to fight for her once again, arguing that I had a contract with the zoo to adopt Marah. And, while I waited for the court to make a decision, Marah gave birth to three snow-white cubs.
It was during my fight to free Marah, which took me two years, that I set up the Global White Lion Protection Trust in 2002. But with my savings dwindling, I needed to raise money and awareness of our struggle to ensure the survival of the white lions.
I knew that the only way to protect them was to buy land in Timbavati, the white lion's ancestral home, and secure it as a protected area for them where they could live without fear of being hunted.
I couldn't afford to buy a large enough piece of land, but then Sheryl Leach, an American philanthropist and the creator of the children's TV character, Barney, the purple dinosaur, heard about the Trust and made a huge donation, so we were able to buy 2,200 acres.
Marah and her cubs arrived in Timbavati in 2004, and we had to ensure that the lions had as little human contact as possible so that they remained “wild.”
From the start, she defied all the critics who said that because she had been born in captivity and having no camouflage because of her whiteness, she would never learn to hunt. But she tried—and, by day five, she had hunted down and caught a porcupine.
After five weeks, she was totally self-sufficient and able to feed herself and her cubs without any outside help.
A year later, we needed to introduce lions from other bloodlines to increase the population. Marah's two sons were now old enough to form their own pride, which they did with two tawny lionesses from the region.
Tragically, after all Marah had been through, she died in 2007 while hunting—she'd crawled into a warthog burrow, which collapsed on her.
I have struggled to make sense of her death, because, without her, there would have been no Global White Lion Protection Trust. But I take some comfort from the fact that, just like her birth on Christmas Day, there is something symbolic about her dying at Easter time.
And so our fight to save the white lions goes on. We have two prides of nine lions, and we expect more cubs to be born soon. However, with more births, the amount of land we need increases because, once the youngsters grow up, they will need their own territory.
Today, I live within the safe area with my partner, Jason Turner—a lion ecologist who heads up the Trust's scientific projects—and our two prides roam free in their natural habitat. While Jason studies the genetics of the white lions, I am more focused on the mythical side, so together we make a great team.
People ask me if I miss my old life, but I can't imagine anything more rewarding than what I do now. These lions are my children. They recognize me, but I keep my distance and allow them their independence. I look at them like any mother with a brood of growing youngsters. And, in the end, the most loving gift you can give is freedom.