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16th May 2011
Watching the last series of Lion Country really brought home the threats that are currently facing lions in Africa. The work of ALERT and Antelope Park was fascinating to watch. So when I had the opportunity to review the companion book I just couldn’t say no.
The book is written by Chris Weston who is a professional photojournalist and it is the photographs that really drive the book. Lion Country is packed full of information and the latest news about the plight of the big cats but the stars of the book are the photographs. It’s not just the lions that get photographed but a whole range of African wildlife. The images are really stunning and have such great detail. The publishers have done the photographs justice by using high quality glossy paper which lets the high definition shots jump out from the page. From shots of two small cubs playing through to the image of a roaring full grown male lion the pictures alone will make this a must have book for wildlife lovers.
Once I’d flicked through the pages and admired the pictures it was time to settle down and start reading the book. While the book is a companion to the Lion Country TV series and does obviously have a large part of the book committed to Antelope Park it is much more than just a book about the TV series.
The first half of the book takes an in-depth look into lions. The book describes the historical range of the lion and how that range has shrunk over the last 100 years or so. There’s a list of African countries that used to have lions and country after country in the list have the words regionally extinct alongside. It’s a sobering sight to see.
The book also describes some of the more recent loses of lions. Over the last 20 years it’s estimated that a third of lions have been lost. The book highlighted just how out of touch I am with regards to African wildlife. Most of my knowledge and experience of African wildlife dates back to my late teens to late 20′s – pretty much 20 years ago. The picture today really is very different to the picture then. This is a book that will bring you up to date with what is happening to these majestic big cats – and it’s a worrying situation.
The first half of the book also takes a look at the life cycle of lions, their behaviour and their physiology. By the time I had completed reading this first section I knew lions very well. I had a good understanding of their role in the ecosystem and how they related to both their prey species but also other top predators on the African plains. I also understood the relationships of lions within a pride.
This first section of the book was essential reading. It provided me with an understanding of what any captive bred lion programme had to try and replicate if they were to return lions successfully back to the wild. So once I’d become a ‘lion expert’ I could move on to the second half of the book which described the work of ALERT and Antelope Park.
This section of the book began with a detailed history of the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) in 2005. It described the reasons for the establishment of the trust and the people behind it. The trust was not established just to bred and release lions but also tackle a whole range of issues including conflict mitigation measures when man and lion clash.
The book outlines the four stage programme that ALERT developed to help overcome the problems that had arisen during previous attempts to release predators into the wild. This four stage programme to ween captive bred lions off human dependence and give them an instinct for living and hunting in the wild is what makes the Antelope Park project so exciting.
The book introduces the main people of the project and describes some of the techniques that they use when working with the new born cubs. There’s also a diary of the days leading up to the first release of lions. You also get to know the individual lions of the TV series a little better. There’s a picture and profile of each of the lions in the pride of Antelope Park and also another section giving a profile of the lions in the release pride. So if you want to know the character of Kwali or Milo or Swahili this book will give you the low down on them.
One thing I would have liked to have read a bit more of is the land reform situation in Zimbabwe. The book did touch on it briefly in relation to an attempt to seize parts of the park but there wasn’t a lot of details about the current reform situation. On a plus side though the reference it did make did include details about the history of the land seizures by white farmers in the 1930′s and the refusal of white farmers to voluntarily sell land back to native tribes during the 1980′s and 1990′s which led to the forced land reforms and seizures.
Overall I found this to be a highly entertaining and informative book with – I’ll say it again – stunning photographs.
You can purchase the book Lion Country direct from the publishers and every book sold will see a portion of the profits go to supporting the charity Animals on the Edge.
Reviewed by Kevin Heath on April 14th.
Easy to read informative book with stunning photographs
The companion book to the TV series Lion Country takes an in-depth look at the state of lions in Africa and the work of Antelope Park. Written by photojournalist Chris Weston.
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