Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Me and Melissa Bachman

no fear of the dark

I have been thinking about lions a lot lately. Partly this is because of Melissa Bachman, and partly because I happen to be painting them at the moment, for my feminist wildlife art project. Lions are not afraid of the dark, and I envy them for it.

I met a lion called Sunshine once. It was in 1996, at Tshukudu near Hoedspruit, when I was researching a story on the emerging centre of South Africa’s game-farming industry. She was tame, kept in captivity, and when she came to show my brother and I her cubs her tail was up like a domestic cat coming to say hello. She was proud of her cubs, and pleased to see me. I made the mistake of reaching over and touching her on her flanks; it tickled, and she responded instinctively, snapping at me gently. “Don’t do that,” said her handler.

She playfully placed her canines around my brother’s kneecap and squeezed, ever so gently. Later my brother said he felt the power in those jaws; how, if she wanted, she could have bitten his leg off.

But Sunshine was a sweetheart who lived up to her name, and of all the lions I have ever met, Sunshine was the nicest.

I have loved lions all my life. At the age of 4, I played with cubs at the Lion Park, and it left a lasting impression on me. I have been lucky enough to see white lions in Timbavati. I have drawn and painted many, many lions over the years.

In the 1990s, we knew two magnificent brothers who ruled over the local pride. One of them was lured to the fence to be kidnapped for a Danish bow hunter. The Shangaan trackers traced the lion to a cage on a neighbouring farm, and he was rescued just in time.

I hated that Danish bow hunter with every fibre of my being.

For years, the farm that I visited bordered on a property that farmed canned lions and other species. Most days we’d go to look at the “hok leeus”. Once, I walked up to the fence and made a sudden movement without thinking.

It was like the moment in Life of Pi, where the boy looks into the tiger’s eyes and the father tells him that there is no soul there. There was no soul in these eyes, not in the sentimental sense. They were predators, and I was prey.

At the nature reserve where I am fortunate enough to spend time every year, I have known many of the wardens and rangers over the years. Shooting is part of what they do. If a baboon breaks into a camp one too many times, it is shot. When hunting permits are issued for buffalo and, yes, elephant, they are shot too.

On a walking tour in the Kruger National Park, the rangers told us about having to shoot buffalo who charged tourists. Elephant, they said, are negotiable, but not buffalo. They were matter of fact. When you live with wildlife, you live with the ever-present possibility that you will have to kill it before it kills you.

In the dead of night, lions are unafraid, something I am exploring in my latest art project. I envy them for that.

So this is my history with lions. I am not like Melissa Bachman, and other people who enjoy killing lions so that they can take them home and put them in their lounge (where do they find the room?) I criticised those who attacked her, and I stand by my views, but I can’t imagine doing what she did, and taking pleasure in shooting one.

It breaks my heart that this is what lions have come to. The species that holds more symbolic power than any other — that was once the most widespread large mammal after human beings, found from Africa to Siberia, to the Americas — now depends on fences and guns and dollars for its survival.

Is there any room in the world for lions?

Tags: , , , ,

  • Cecil, the dentist and a mass extinction event
  • The consequences of a total ban of trophy hunting
  • Want to help lions? For real?
  • Lion hunts and other things we don’t like
    • skerminkel

      Might being shot by a hunter, who appreciates the animal in his/her own way, not be a more noble death for a lion than growing too old to hunt and die of hunger?
      Being at the top of the food chain has its negative points.

    • Hakuna Matata

      Sarah, you will have to accept the contradiction: while hunters are able to shoot animals, someone will have to breed them, and ultimately actually increase the numbers. I don’t hunt (I still feel a little sad about that pesky Indian Mina I killed last Saturday), but there seems to be conservation rationale behind it all. I’m not sure of the genetic integrity of these farmed animals, but that is of course another story. There is of course a lie hidden in the Melissa Bachman photo: it suggests that she trekked after the lion and with some cunning stalking killed it, whereas it was most likely a canned lion. (I see no difference between actually hunting and shooting a canned animal. Except that it is easier.)

    • the lion people

      “Is there any room in the world for lions?” – Good question.

      When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”

      The above is the only quote I could think of that explains how I feel. Something is wrong with our collective mindset when economic value dictates whether something survives or goes extinct. Natural beauty and natural heritage therefore have no value unless it makes a profit. What sort of consciousness is that?

    • aim for the culprits

      bloggers on this site often have a similar trait. they defend their position completely and don’t generally acknowledge some excellent points make by contributors. my view is that blogs are enhanced by an interactive dialogue. when bloggers do comment in response to comments, which is relatively rare, it is all too often to praise an acolyte or put down any contrary views. just a thought.

    • Terik

      There is no excuse anybody can make that killing this lion is good for conservation. It is a fact that lions in the wild face being extinct in 10 years. Humans like Melissa Bachman and other people who kill for thrills, as well as politicians who only care about money are helping to destroy this majestic animal as well as rhinos, elephants and many other animals. When did safaris turn to killing animals instead of admiring their beauty? It is sad that in this day and age this can happen. Conservation is long gone… its so sad and unbelievable that humans are desroying our wildlife, planet and life is only about making money.

    • Jerome Styer

      Hunting, is it right – simply no, but then again how much of our world is right. It’s a compromise and the possibility of a managed approach to wildlife economics. I don’t like it one little bit but the only way we are going to delay the extinction of species is by attaching a value be it through tourism, hunting or other that can be channelled through the system so that the money goes back to supporting species and protected areas instead of into the black market.

      The so called progress of humanity has left a trail of wildlife destruction in its path over the last few centuries, and given that there are over 7 billion of us, estimated to hit 11 billion by the end of the century I think the remaining wildlife on earth stands little chance given the way we treat them so until we fundamentally change I will support hunting.

      As for the online reaction, I’d ask that those that were so outspoken to do something constructive about it, donate to Sanparks or a Wildlife or Conservation fund, book your next holiday at a game or nature reserve, educate and teach your kids your kids respect for nature and wildlife but do something please. This will achieve so much more than chasing away the “legal” hunting fraternity away from South Africa through slacktivism.

    • the lion people


      Great comment. Maybe we should do that for people as well. Rather shoot them while they are still healthy and good looking, before they need walkers and wheelchairs, drive like old farts, poep in their pants, and repeat themselves over and over again. :-)

    • Terik

      Another thought – what will become of Africa when all the Big Five have been wiped out by humans? If the animals are gone, the tourist will not return. If we don’t stop the mass killing of wildlife, there won’t be anything left in 10 – 20 years. I have been to Africa several times and was fortunate to see the Big five, but I am not sure future generations will be so fortunate to see Africa the way I did.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I too cannot understand why someone would bring death into their house and put it on a wall. I also cannot understand why someone would hunt something they couldn’t eat. It is just as well that we are all different or life would be horribly boring

    • the lion people

      Let’s forget Melissa Bachmann for a minute and look at the bigger picture..

      “It breaks my heart that this is what lions have come to. The species that holds more symbolic power than any other — that was once the most widespread large mammal after human beings, found from Africa to Siberia, to the Americas — now depends on fences and guns and dollars for its survival.” – Sarah Btitten.

      It is our current economic and political system that has led to this. While there are a few examples of private property and profit assisting conservation, the overall thrust is towards destruction.

      According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. We are well into the Sixth Major Extinction of Life on Earth.

      Our belief that we humans are omnipotent, and our greed to own every conceivable resource, whether plant, animal, mineral or land is the underlying cause of this extinction. Greed and private property have proven to be a poor custodian of our natural heritage, or we would not be into the Sixth Major Extinction. The other five were all natural disaster, this disaster is human caused.

      “Property is theft” is a slogan coined by French social anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhorn in his 1840 book. Continued……..

    • the lion people

      …..Continued…“Property is theft” is a slogan coined by French social anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhorn in his 1840 book. If we did not OWN the lions or rhino’s or our natural heritage and resources that we shoot, drill, excavate, plunder ,mine and frack, and this natural heritage was part of the communal commons, we would not have this problem.

      There would then be room left in this world for lions and no Sixth major Extinction of Life on Earth.


    • the lion people

      OOOPs, sorry, spelling correction – SARAH BRITTEN.

    • Stephen Browne

      @the lion people: to put some perspective on this: “According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. We are well into the Sixth Major Extinction of Life on Earth.”

      The truth is, 99.99% (or so) of all species, ever, have gone extinct.

      That said, it still hurts to see mankind making such a godawful mess!

    • PrettyBelinda

      Its the nature and the spirit of the trophy hunter which sets my blood
      boiling; which curdles and knots my stomach…..this same nature is evident in the Bachmann photograph, the one that was present in the days of
      Saartjie Bartman…..this spirit lowers the energy fields of
      our mountains valleys rivers and wildlife.

    • Paul S

      And tragically it’s not just lions that have run out of options. Every species, including the uncuddly ones, is on the way out thanks to our selfish lifestyles. Ironically it’s humans that the world has no space for any longer.

    • the lion people

      Over-consumption is our problem. The wealthiest 20% of the population use 86% of global resources, in addition, who goes trophy hunting? Members of the wealthiest 20% of the population or members of the poorest 80% of the population?

      Time to teleport the wealthiest 20% of the population to Mars, let them go play there.

    • Benedick Louw

      @skerminkel. Your pseudo explains the narrow-mindedness, i will not even attempt to prove you wrong.

      @aim for the culprits. I concur fully.

      Fact of the matter, in short and simple lexicon. What Melissa Bachman did was wrong and will remain wrong without sentimentalizing or dramatizing the whole issue. As a society we ave become so numbed to our instinctive human emotion to not even twitch when we are confronted with heinous, despicable and regrettable (as a human being, guardian of all that is on or underneath the earth, the animal kingdom included) to resort to such monstrosity. Such insensitivity speaks of a society that have lost it’s moral compass. Another way pf asking this is, would Melissa Bachman have shot her dog (Man’s best friend) for some trophy or rush of adventurism?Whether this was legal as been alluded to here of some comments, point is legality alone can’t be the talisman of morality. Morality toward fellow human begins, toward the plant, animal kingdoms can’t be justified on the premises of legal parameters.

    • HumorMe

      Humans are the most selfish of all species here, and are absolutely responsible for the destruction of natural habitats these majestic animals live in. God forbid we control our ever-growing population, let’s just keep encroaching into their territories! The amount of progress science has made and information that has been put on the table for us, you’d think we’ve learned a thing or two about our ecosystem and all the species that are part of it, the cycle of life etc. Seems like not even the social dynamics and countless intimate moments captured on cameras are enough for us to change our attitude towards other life forms.

      I’ve been donating to all these organizations to save big cats because supposedly they’re going extinct, and now I’m learning they’re not even protected as endangered species! Ths is driving me nuts! And on top of that, i have to cope with new information on game-farms and lions that are bred specifically for hunting! Wth!!! I kind of feel betrayed! Are they or aren’t they on the decline? Asiatic lions are almost gone–their existence is in the hundreds! The whole planet is headed for mass extinction!

      One more thing, so besides disease, scarcity of food, territorial wars, the lions have to deal with hunters as well? Man, they have it tough!

    • Nguni

      @ the lion people
      What will happen when you export the top 20% of wealthy people to Mars? Earth will go to the dogs even quicker. Those 20% are not the ones breeding uncontrollably, waiting for handouts, houses, land from the state. Not the ones encroaching on the remaining jungles of the world. Shooting a few canned lions will not bring about the destruction of wildlife in Africa, but exploding poor populations will.

    • the lion people

      The ‘fast breeding’ poor are not destroying the planet Mr Nguni. They add very little to climate change, pollution, and ocean acidification. The poorest 80% of the population utilize only 14% of the global resources. While the poorest 20% of those humans on earth use 1% of our resources.

      However, if every human on earth used the same resources as the average US American we would need the resources of five planet earths to survive. If we are to survive, the wealthiest 20% need to cut back on their resource use and environmental impact immediately according to scientific research, or they will destroy life on earth.

    • the lion people

      P.S. – @Nguni

      Rain-forest destruction is directly related to over-consumption by the wealthy. You really need to get up to speed with the science and the facts.