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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Thursday, 30 July 2015


Dear Wally,

WTF were you thinking when you came into my back yard to shoot an African lion, and not just any lion, but Zimbabwe's most famous lion, Cecil? Did it not occur to you that the reason many lions in Africa have names is because there aren't too many of them left? Fewer in the wild than black rhinos, in fact, and they aren't exactly flourishing.

I have an inkling about what you might have been thinking. Perhaps you were thinking how impressed your family, friends and neigbours would be when they saw a mighty black-maned lion's head on your wall. They'd all think: He's the man!

I can imagine, perhaps, your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, sitting at your feet in front of the fire one day. One says: "Tell us about the lion's head on the wall, Uncle Wally." (Oh, by the way, 'Wally' is a term of endearment which us Anglophiles use to mean 'dickhead'. Could be an unfortunate coincidence. Just saying.) 

So you regale them with tales of bravery and great cunning: "Well, we cleverly threw down lion food and lured Cecil out of his sanctuary, the Hwange National Park, because then we could say we thought we were allowed to shoot him. I shot him with a poisoned arrow, because then we had the thrill of hunting a wounded, suffering lion for two days. When we found him again, out of a sense of goodness we just had to put him out of his misery." You might continue: "And you know why this was a good thing? Well it's because I didn't think too highly of myself before I did that. I didn't think I was manly enough. I thought others didn't like me and this would make them impressed and like me more and it would make me seem very manly. You do think I'm manly, don't you? And I did feel a whole lot better about myself when I saw the photograph of me posing with the lion.

You might leave out the part that now most of the world hates you. You might also leave out the part that you contributed to destroying the wildlife heritage of Africa. My heritage. And that of my children and their children. We don't choose to live in Africa because we have to. We choose to live here because of the treasures we have, and we sure as heck didn't ask you to come here and destroy them.

Perhaps one day, when there are no lions (or indeed any animals) left, your great-grandchildren will come home from a history class and ask their parents: "Is it really true that Uncle Wally helped destroy all the animals?"

Anyway, Wally, I think your money was well invested and you must be well pleased. Most advertising agencies will tell you that you can't buy publicity like you've had for the $50,000 you paid to kill Cecil. It's a shame that the publicity may not have been quite what you had in mind, but as the stars say: "Any publicity is good publicity."

From my side, I just wanted to say that you aren't welcome in Africa, unless it's to come and personally offer a public apology and commit yourself to the conservation effort, but I somehow guess that isn't going to happen.

Anyway, assuming you won't be coming back, perhaps you should in the meantime concentrate on luring your neighbours' dogs out of their yards with food and then shooting them: it might not win you any more friends, but it sure should enhance your manliness and self-esteem.

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Last Thursday I went to the premier of a courageous, powerful and profoundly disturbing movie, BLOOD LIONS (www.bloodlions.org). The film lifts the lid on and challenges the multi-billion rand lion breeding and hunting industry in South Africa.

Canned lion hunting has been in and out of the news for some years, but this film exposes the huge extent of the practice, the size of the industry and just how grubby it really is. A few interesting facts I learnt:

  • We only have 2,500 lions left in the wild, 2,000 of which are diseased (e.g. feline AIDS and TB). So the maths is 500 healthy wild lions left
  • To put this in context, the number of endangered black rhino left is 3,500
  • There are up to 8,000 predators (7,000 of which are lions) which have been bred in captivity on about 200 different farms around South Africa, all waiting to be shot by hunters in unethical circumstances or by businessman who export the, bones, pelts, stuffed trophies and so on
  • The breeding conditions are grim, squalid and in-humane, with cubs (which usually suckle for 18-24 months) being taken from their mothers within 1-2 weeks so that the mothers can start breeding again immediately after giving birth
  • Inter-breeding is causing genetic defects and destroying the gene pool
  • Any pretence that any of this is to support conservation is a joke
  • Botswana (whose Minister of the Environment, Mr Tshekedi Khama II attended the premier) has banned all hunting and Australia has banned the import of trophies in an effort to help stop the practice
  • The South African government condones the practice and has done nothing

The film was produced by our friend, Pippa Hankinson, who has been involved in conservation efforts for many years. She was inspired to produce it after visiting a lion breeding camp 4 years ago and being so appalled and upset by what she saw that she made a decision to take a stand to rid the world of this unethical and sickening industry. She found some people willing to help her and created a film production company. What I love about her process was that, faced with a seemingly impossible task of challenging this huge and murky industry, instead of cowering and retreating, Pippa was able to draw on her courage and channel her anger into this creative act.

As a measure of her determination, after receiving a standing ovation for the film I heard her say she could take no credit for it unless it leads to the end of the canned lion business.

I think that what she has done with the support of her team - Ian Michler, Nick Chevalier, Bruce Young, Dr Andrew Venter, Jeremy Nathan, Rick Swazey and Dave Cohen, to name a few, is nothing short of heroic. It takes a special act of passion and courage to stand up for what you believe in when there are threatening circumstances involved.

I don't often ask for my posts to be shared, but this time I ask that you share it on Facebook and Twitter, using the icons below. If you want to support Pippa on her quest, please follow www.bloodlions.com on Facebook and Twitter. Also read the FAQ's on the website to understand what this industry is really about.

Saturday, 18 July 2015


I spoke in my last blog of our recent boat trip along the #YonneRiver and #CanalDuNivernais in #France. Here's another piece to emerge from this wonderful journey.

When we took delivery of our boat in #Migennes, I was handed a Captain's Manual and required to sign a document declaring myself to be the Captain of the boat (and therefore responsible for it). 

Kazalette, Jeśka and Stefan were my crew, but I was the one required to take command. Signing on didn't seem too onerous, but that was before I had been given my initial training on a small patch of water and we had taken the boat through its first lock. Those two events woke me up to what it meant to be in charge of this beast. I learnt as I entered the first lock that boats have a mind of their own. If they aren't steered and managed in a certain thoughtful and consistent way, they steer all over the place and tend to bump into things (like lock walls, for instance). Bumping into things is not particularly good for the welfare of the average boat (ice-beakers might be an exception).

Of course, with the novelty and tension of a new lock, everyone on board had some thoughts and advice for the Captain, vocally put forward, on how to do this thing. At the helm, I could feel an ulcer rapidly developing.

Then we were through the first lock, looking for a place to berth on the river bank for the night. Thankfully we were being guided by some friendly barging veterans in another boat ahead of us, but nonetheless the entire crew again offered helpful advice on how to berth, with the Captain trying to listen to everyone and effectively hearing no one. Despite this, we somehow managed to berth without major incident.

After a big night with our new-found friends and guides, they bade us farewell and we were left to fare for ourselves on the waters of the Yonne for the next week. Inevitably, advice from the crew to the Captain thereafter came thick and fast, going through the locks and finding picnic spots on the following day. The Captain, on the other hand, found himself feeling tense and grumpy about crew members not putting out and hanging into ropes when they were meant to do so and the boat, robust as it was with its rubber fenders, bumping its way past miscellaneous obstacles.

Finally the penny dropped for the Captain that he was being indecisive about navigational decisions, had not been particularly specific with his requirements of his crew and was countenancing way too much democracy on board. No sooner had the scales fallen from his eyes than the locks became a breeze, a reasonable measure of democracy was permitted in selecting lunch and overnight spots, but some order was introduced to berthing procedures.

And so the Captain's folly turned to the Skipper's delight. I stopped feeling tense every time we had to do something other than steer straight down the canal and we all engaged in one of the most wonderful holidays we as a family have ever had.

The lessons learnt?

*  Take total responsibility for your personal boat
*  If you do not take control, expect some bumps, if not a shipwreck
*  Understand that you can't do it all alone, so solicit help when you need it, but be clear about what help you need
*  Do what is reasonable or you'll burn yourself out
* Don't take the journey so seriously: rather enjoy the beauty and excitement of the ride

Saturday, 11 July 2015


A friend and teacher of mine, Roy Whitten, wrote a book some years ago entitled "Simply Being Happy". I have also been privileged enough to be part of trainings led by Roy in which his simple approach to happiness and being happy has come through time and again. Inevitably, I have considered the nature of happiness time and again in my own life.

I have just returned from the most special week with my family, Kazalette, Jeśka and Stefan, on a barge exploring the beautiful Yonne River and the Canal du Nivernais in the Loire Valley, France.

One evening we moored on a secluded bank alongside the canal for the night. I later found myself sitting on the bank next to our boat, watching the beauty of the soft early evening light fall on the trees, listening to the birds singing, engaging with the reflections on the water, watching Stefan earnestly fishing, Jeśka quietly answering masses of birthday messages she had received earlier in the day and Kazalette pottering around the boat. It was a scene and experience of blissful tranquility. I can honestly say I have rarely felt more at peace or happier.

Whatever was happening in my office back home was not completely out of my consciousness, but it had the level of priority that office work should have when on holiday: close to 1 out of 10 and I just trusted that all was well. Every part of me was grateful for every gift, and right then everything in my life up to that point was a gift. I was simply happy, being exactly where I was and how I was in that moment and surrounded by beauty and my precious family.

Perhaps it is easier to be happy when barging around France, and perhaps circumstances do help, but the truth is that we can be happy anytime we choose, so long as the mind doesn't have us somewhere else feeling unhappy. All that is needed is to be completely present, engaged in whatever moment presents itself, and feel grateful for all that we have.

And part of my gratitude lies with Roy Whitten, for helping to wake me up to the experience of true happiness. Namaste, Roy.