Lions have always been important to me. Not only as icons and symbols of strength, teamwork and majesty but as very real individuals. Odd, when you consider I've been allergic to cats as long as I can remember.
Twenty years ago this Fall, I had the opportunity to get to know a brother and sister lion pair up close and personal. While he was fond of shoes, would slip them off your foot carefully with a gentle touch, his sister never hesitated to swat any and all passersby. They were pet lions who worked occasionally in a magician's act. They were big babies, weighing in at 280 pounds. When the brother jumped up to slam both paws on my shoulders he dislocated one. He never meant to hurt me. His size and enthusiasm did it. Imagine your housecat when he's racing around the house chasing shadows. Add in the extra weight and height and you have unplanned injury.
It's why I'm conflicted about videos like this. Lions are dangerous. They are wild animals. But then so are domesticated house cats. And dogs. We tend to anthromoporphize them. I truly believe they have souls and personalities as individual as humans. But they are not human. What makes sense to them, what makes them lion/dog/cat/parrot is different from what makes us human. Forgetting that, or even denying them their wildness, causes problems. We expect them to conform to our rules, to fit into our lives, often at the cost of their own.
I have no doubt of the strength of the bond between this man and the lions. None at all. I've experienced it to a lesser degree. It is incredible. Watching him rub their bellies reminded me so much of the feel of lion fur, the sound of purrs, as I brushed out their shaggy coats. Some nights I would sit on a bale of hay and read Diana Gabaldon's Voyager to them while the male lion chewed on my shoe. The lioness always listened and watched me carefully. I'm not sure how if she was contemplating time travel or just liked my voice.
There was nothing like waking up to the sound of a lion moaning, a mournful sound. They were terrified of the chew toy yet batted my window air conditioner around like nerf ball. I miss them every day but know they didn't deserve their life in captivity. There was only so much I could to to make it interesting when they weren't mine. Releasing them back into the wild was hardly an option here.
To this day, I associate that time with a burst of creativity. They kept me on my toes as I did my best to entertain them. I wrote every day of their four months in my care. I read aloud to them in the evenings then researched as much as possible.
When the lioness was off for a vet trip alone, her brother broke out of his cage and ran amok in the garage. He knocked over a bucket of paint, decorating our walls and floor with giant pink prints. I wrote a note on the door warning his owners that he was loose. A note that was more haiku that rebuke.
Lions. Dangerous and enthralling. Affectionate and endangered. Protecting their habitat is as important as expanding ours.