Famed South African conservationist West Mathewson gave his time, energy and resources to looking after two white cubs and growing them into a ferocious but beautiful looking pair. Watching him lavish love on his favorite creatures was a thing of beauty. Alas, but in a moment of madness, they forgot the history of their almost enchanting love affair. We are yet to know what prompted one of the lions to attack him, while the other, instead of fending her off, ‘watched the show.’ Yet we cannot brush aside the growing feeling to blame what happened on confusion, especially from the reaction of the second lion that ‘watched,’ the unfortunate incident unfolding and did nothing.
What confused the lions? Was it the smell of their owner? Was it some attitude exhibited by their owner? Was it something their owner did or did not do? Or was ‘owner’ the issue? Might we find clues if we looked further into the fact that lions are never really ‘owned.’ Might we find clues from the assumption that we are not permitted to have any kind of bragging rights when it comes to keeping lions?
We have owned and mastered oxen, donkeys and other animals but has mankind really ‘owned’ lions? With all our knowledge, sophistication and circus affairs with wild animals over the years, we are inclined to assume we have got the number on lions but sad incidents like the death of Mr. Mathewson remind us that there is still a vast space of knowledge about these beasts we are yet to acquire. How many people know anything close to what Mr. Mathewson knew about lions?
Yet the family and the rest of us may console ourselves with the fact that he went where his heart led him. He invested his love in his passion. That they reciprocated his goodwill with callousness and murder, does not take away beauty of his choice, especially the memories he left us, of his attempts to make lions in our own image.