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.