Lions are like Dogs and Tigers are like Cats

Lions are like Dogs and Tigers are like Cats

Looking at the lions laying quietly together or sleeping in the heat side by side, I thought about the phrase I had heard over and over again: “Lions are like dogs and tigers are like cats.” I thought about the dogs who have been the great four-footed companions throughout my life. 

Precious Mr. Patches, a Jack Russell terrier rescue, loved the sunshine and me more than anything. Buddy, Rags and Thunder, different dogs who spanned the years, all had been far more content to be positioned beside me on the floor than to be running down the beach chasing seagulls (even though they all loved chasing seagulls!) Being by my side definitely came first. Any one of those dogs would have given its life in an instant to save mine. 

And then there were the cats, the most recent being Mia and Keira, the two young feline rescues I’d left at home. I had already taken to calling them “The Little Lions”  so as not to hurt their feelings with all the “Lion Talk” preparing for this rescue. I realized now that they were definitely far more “Little Tigers” than lions. They’re loving and dear but always choosing mischief over affection, ever watchful and eager to play in a heart-beat. 

Mr. Spenser and Molly who came before them were our feline guardians. They were something else entirely. Pure Spirits. Guardians. Companions on the Journey. 

Something deep within my heart and mind began to open: The rescued wild lions and tigers here, as well as the dogs and the cats who had shared my life, were so much more than I had thought they were. I always knew they were special but now I felt it in a whole new way that I couldn’t quite articulate. There was something tangible and loving and deeply sacred and transformational about each of them. 

Being here in the ADI Temporary Rescue Center where the well-being of the animals was more important than anything else, enabled me to begin to slip into their world, to allow myself to experience who they were in their own right, in their own families, in their own relationships and what they needed and sought with one another and with me. Honesty. Kindness. Trustworthiness. Respect.

I began to experience being part of a web of life that interconnects plants, animals, and all life forces including the Earth Herself. I felt connected at a depth that was stunning, where I knew that what we do to and with every other being and force on this planet matters.

Lions and tigers are different and so is every being from every other and yet, through the web of life, we are joined, all ultimately seeking the same things.

Lions and Tigers are Different  – Part 2

Lions and Tigers are Different – Part 2

The Lions

I noticed that these lions were smaller, much smaller than the tigers.

I’d never seen a single lion get anywhere near water at the compound – they were always the sun instead. They would spread themselves across the tops of their platforms like melting puddles and sleep in the heat. While the tigers parked themselves in the water, the lions parked themselves in the sun.

The lions stretched. And, so far at least, I’d never seen a lion pounce.

These lions also watched each other, but differently than the tigers did. The tigers watched everything, even when they were in their small night feeding cages.

The lions watched each other. They’d look before approaching to plop down next to one another. Or lean up against each other. Their groupings seemed quieter than the tigers, too, somehow. Less playful and more relaxed and comforting. They’d often be seen lying beside each other touching or almost touching.

I wondered to myself if it was because they were older than the tigers here and not in very good health. I decided to walk down towards them to get a closer look.

It is much quieter down at the far end of the meadow where the land dips off into the valley below. Most of the activity occurs up closer to the entrance. Here, in the quiet, where the five rescued lions were grouped, I came to know ADI’s most fascinating feline couples.

Tarzan and Tanya

His name is Tarzan. His head is huge and scarred. His lip is torn. His tongue often left hanging out. He sits or lays on the highest level of the platform in the late morning sun. I know that he has already had surgery to repair the painful damage to his face. ADI’s Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips immediately took care of that. The lip repair will come once he is safely settled in South Africa.

Always with Tarzan – often right beside him – is the littlest lioness, Tanya. She seems to be ever at his side and, in the few moments when not, her eyes are always on him. I am struck immediately by the contrast between the fragility of her size and the ferocity of her vigilance. They are, indeed, a pair.

“What’s the deal?” I ask, wanting to learn more. No one seemed to know for sure, but finally someone told me that he thought that the two had lived in a circus together where lions and tigers were not kept apart. Apparently, one day, a tiger attacked Tarzan without warning, grabbing his face and tearing into him. By the time the two great cats were separated, Tarzan was pretty badly mangled. There was a rumor floating around that in the midst of it, tiny Tanya had gone after the tiger and caused just enough of a distraction for the men to rescue Tarzan. “Is it true?” I had asked, incredulously. “We’ll never know,” I was told. “It was a circus. There are no records, just lots and lots of stories.”

It may be just a story. Perhaps – even probably.  But then, every time I looked into Tanya’s eyes, I saw the way she looked at Tarzan and I knew – it’s true – at least in her heart, it’s true.

Lions and Tigers are Different – Part 1

Lions and Tigers are Different – Part 1

“Lions and tigers are different.”  We would hear that phrase over and over again around Animal Defenders International’s (ADI) Temporary Rescue Center.

“That’s obvious,” I thought – without really thinking. “Of course, they are. Just look at them! “

But then, as I stood at the edge of the exercise yard actually looking at them, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t think of anything else. They look different. Yes, of course, (who knew that tigers were this big) and what else?What does make lions and tigers different? I wondered. And thought.

I knew that lions live in prides.  Did tigers? At that moment, I couldn’t recall. Lions have close family ties. Tigers? I remembered hearing somewhere that male tigers sire cubs and move on. Or was it mountain lions? Was that true? I wasn’t sure about that either. I searched my mind and could come up with very little that I actually knew about these magnificent great cats. How was it that I, who have loved animals my whole life, could actually know so little about them? I was shocked. That just wasn’t okay.

This situation was about to change, radically, in a way that would forever alter my life. I made the commitment right there to pay attention, to be willing to meet these animals in their world instead of flattening and folding them to fit into mine. I wasn’t sure what that meant then but I was determined to try. That commitment took me into a whole new world.

What had I learned from my experience of being with these 5 lions and 12 tigers during the span of these past few days?  A few things:

First, tigers are a swirl of stripes. I knew that for sure. They’re playful and on the move. They love water! Playing in it. Pouncing in it. Splashing it. Dragging tires and tree branches and any other objects they’re given right into it. They love dozing in it. Especially dozing in it. And not just the 2 year-olds. They all revel in water – and playing together, engaging each other – even the adults, hiding and pouncing, charging and rolling.

As I stood there I knew that tigers are stripes and movement, energy and playfulness, and water worshipers.

And, tigers love togetherness.

But what about lions?

to be continued…

A Message from Africa At Last

A Message from Africa At Last

Dear All,
 
At long last Mary and I and the rest of the Animal Defenders International (ADI) team arrived at The ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa. We are all exhausted after weeks of trying to get 17 rescued lions and tigers out of Guatemala. To get here we traveled through four countries, spending thirty-some hours in the air.
 
The press was on hand and did a raft of great stories including this one on CNN world news, filmed as a big storm was gathering. Unfortunately, what was supposed to blow over in 15 – 30 minutes became a violent rainstorm. The release of the animals was halted for obvious safety reasons. The 5 huge flatbed trucks that brought them on the four-hour drive here from the airport were all able to fit into a huge secure barn for the night. They were fed and given fresh water one more time.
 
There was no way to get the three tigers that had already been released back into a dry space. They do have several shelters in the large area into which they were released and so everyone just had to hunker down and wait out a terrible night.
 
The men here were on alert all night long, patrolling this huge area in their cars to make sure that the tigers were okay. Still  it was a long, long night. Worst of all, the remaining animals whom we had so hoped to get out of those travel cages had to stay in them for another 12 hours.
 
During the night Mary and I were each awakened by the sound of lions roaring, talking to each other. They’re the 24 lions rescued earlier who now live here in the sanctuary. It’s a remarkable sound. At dawn when we met in the living room we looked out to see the two young tigers, released the night before, stroll past the windows and lay down in the tall grass 20+ feet from us. No sign of their father, but he did show up later. And we spent the entire day today releasing every one of the other lions and tigers.
 
We quit work a few hours ago and I am writing this before I head to bed because I know you are all sending your love and your prayers, which certainly have sustained us during the worst of this arduous journey of compassion.
 
So we are here. Many wonderful stories can be written now that we are here and safe. I will continue this blog that I have started on The Guibord Center’s website and I urge you to look at the Animal Defenders International Facebook page or website which are carrying rich pieces of this journey.
 
It has been so busy that I am just now downloading the 1100 photos taken in the last 5 days. I will leave you with a few. (Editors note: Due to spotty wifi connections only one photo came through with this message.  Stay tuned for more.)
 
Gratefully – and tired.
 
Love and thanks to you all,
 
Lo (and Mary)
The Animal Defenders International Temporary Rescue Center –  Meeting the Tigers and Lions

The Animal Defenders International Temporary Rescue Center – Meeting the Tigers and Lions

After the long drive out of the city, through a maze of streets and byways, crowded communities and rural areas, over nice highways and unpaved roads, we finally stop. Our driver jumps out and shouts, and somewhere from the opposite side of a wall a large section slides open. We’re here.

We have arrived at long last at the Animal Defenders International (ADI) Temporary Rescue Center, where over the past many months each rescued lion and tiger has been thoroughly evaluated, cared for and brought back to health. They have finally received treatment for painfully broken teeth, atrophied muscles, malnourishment and trauma they received at human hands.

Here at the Rescue Center they have discovered the joy in playing, laying in the sun, smelling the grass beneath their feet, being with their families and companions, enjoying healthy food, clean homes and clear water.

Mary and I have come all this way to witness what caring can do.

I step down from the truck into the rescue center feeling a little disoriented. It seems, at first, that we’re in the middle of the jungle. Then, through a tall line of trees, I begin to recognize the village of night cages where the lions and tigers are fed and monitored. Behind the night cages I can make out the large fenced-in runs where they live and play.

Men begin emerging from several different directions at once, all moving towards us. At the back of the small house that looks like it grew straight out of the undergrowth, a single dog stands at alert, on duty. His large tail wags welcome. I turn to the sound of a voice. A thin young woman moves towards us swiftly through patches of sunlight that bounce off her ADI hat and t-shirt. She arrives at the truck with a smile. Hand outstretched. This is Yani, ADI’s Temporary Rescue Center Manager, and other go-to person on the ground. Her presence clearly commands the scene.

Jan and Tim introduce us. Yani acknowledges Mary and me warmly and then, without missing a beat, begins updating them on the status of whatever has occurred since their last conversation. While I know nothing of the content, nor should I, what strikes me is the professionalism of the exchange. They are colleagues, urgently working together toward something larger than themselves. It is the well-being of their charges, these 17 lions and tigers, and getting them to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa as quickly and safely as possible that matters.

Both Mary and I relate. We get it. We have both worked in jobs where lives are on the line. The AIDS Epidemic saw each of us deeply engaged in different fronts of the same struggle – Mary was in the labs – I was in the streets. We are here to watch and learn, to photograph and record, to help when and where we can and be part of the solution, not add to the problems. We stand quietly to the side taking in the scope of the operation until Jan is ready to move toward the animals.

We follow along a narrow trail that stops at a container of lye set into the ground. The lye is a disinfectant to keep us from contaminating the area with something we track in and also keep us from taking any contamination away with us. We step down into it making sure both feet are dusted. No one here takes chances.

We enter a large clearing where the animals live and are treated. It is an active village where everyone knows their job and all the focus is on the well-being of each great cat. We come around the empty night cages to the runs to meet the tigers and I am unexpectedly stunned by the ocean of stripes churning before me.

These are huge animals, spinning and charging one another, leaping, playing – an explosion of crisp, bright whites and blacks and yellows that are at once majestic and overwhelming. My senses are momentarily staggered by being exposed to more stripes than I have seen in my life.

The tigers are regal, magnificent, awesome and… everywhere. “How am I ever going to tell them apart?” I wonder, concerned and a little ashamed.  It’s not that “they all look the same” – but they actually do.  My brain hasn’t had enough exposure to them to be able to decipher the elaborate patterning that delineates one from another. I know the stripes form their unique signatures but we haven’t been introduced. I don’t know their names.

Gwynne used to say: “If I know your name, then…”  then everything changes. Each one of these beautiful tigers has a name, a story. I am eager to get to know them – together and individually.

Gradually I realize that a few are moving oddly. Stiff-legged. Rocking. I notice where a tail is truncated or crooked. I begin to understand the cost of inbreeding and captivity that is on display.

As I stand there thinking, two of the youngsters are let out to play. They head straight for the pond in the middle of their large enclosure. They’re in the water in a flash – jumping and playing, stalking and splashing,  just sitting in the water like little kids grinning. I see how they love the pond, how natural it is for them to be in it, and my heart aches with the grief that not one of them has known the joy of water until ADI created these ponds for them.

While I have been lost in my thoughts one of the two has come to the fence directly in front of me. She snorts and sniffs. I bend down and offer her the back of my hand. She snuffles it through the fence. I resist the impulse to put my hand in to pet her. As sweet as this moment is, she is a wild animal and capable of doing great damage unintentionally to a creature as frail and flimsy as me. If she hurt me it is she, sadly, who would pay. In any other setting it would cost her life. I am touched and sobered at how curious and trusting she is in this moment, at how powerful the drive is to connect to another.

The lions appear in the far enclosures. They  climb up on their platforms and relax in the sun. I will go to them soon enough, but for now, my heart belongs to the tigers.