When I was asked to review Gareth Patterson’s Autobiography, My Lion’s Heart, I jumped at the task. In the last couple of years we have dedicated so much time to exploring our own local Nature Reserve, it has been such an adventure for all of us. However, like most South Africans we can only dream of seeing The Big Five one day. To be honest I was really excited to read about the life of someone who has dedicated their life to protecting wildlife and specifically lions. If you want to get to know Gareth Patterson then follow the link to his about page.
This first part of the book is really the story of his life growing up in Africa and I have to say that it took a while to read, because I kept having to tell whoever was sitting next to me about what I was reading. Anecdote after anecdote on every page. Crazy escapades, and wild adventures. I didn’t tell my kids that keeping collecting snakes was an actual event and boy did we laugh over the “python with piles” incident… who knew pythons even got piles. Needless to say it was a great read and while I was the reader, reporting back to the kids, it turned out to be great fun for all of us. Gareth Patterson did indeed have a fairly different and often remarkable childhood, that set him up for a very different life and nothing like the one most of us would dream of for our children.
The Book is in four parts, and the middle two tell us of his journey through life, the trials and disappointments of conservation in Africa. This really is a book that needed to be written. So many wildlife books tell successful stories, this one not so much. It is fairly heart wrenching in places and apart from his life with the lions I shared a whole lot less with my kids. There is so much going on in conservation that really needs to be told, folk should hear about the struggle of environmentalists on the ground. I do believe that an educated public can do so much more to actually contribute towards conservation in a relevant way. This book will be an eye opener for a lot of readers. If you are even slightly interested in wildlife, especially in the African context, then this is a must read.
Ever present throughout the book is his journey with the lions and what an incredible journey. Living amongst them and training his pack as a parent to them. Gareth Patterson truly does have a Lion’s Heart. The last section of the book flew by far too fast, there is a pretty crushing conclusion to his journey. On the one hand the ending is fairly devastating and on the other, this man is indeed a pioneer, he calls himself a wildlife warrior and he isn’t wrong. He uses his books to bring the message of conservation to the world at large. His writing is eloquent, and gripping, sensitive and emotional… it makes for a very good read. I for one am so grateful for his message and his ability to share his heart with his readers.
Author Interview With Gareth Patterson
In this interview we cover heaps in our Se7en + 1 Questions. You will find his reasons for writing, the writing process, his dream for conservation, even getting kids outdoors. Enjoy it…
- You grew up under an African sky and experienced things way beyond the imagination of most people. Did you always know that you would be a pioneer of animal conservation, one of the few in fact, or did you imagine you would be a writer… what was your dream as a child?
- When you started your work there were a number of passionate and inspiring conservationists working in Africa, and now there are less than a handful… How do you think hands-on conservation will change in the future?
- When you are out in the wild day in and day out, you are called to survive. Reading about your incredible escapes and close encounters of every kind, one has to wonder do you have a life skill you rank as the most essential?
- You have written a number of books and by sharing your story you are bringing the plight of the wildlife of Africa to the people, literally. Which comes first the idea for a book as you begin a new assignment or does the book only emerge when you are some way into a project?
- What is your writing process like? Do you keep journals as you go, or do you need a keyboard… do you start from an outline or do you hammer away and write your book from start to finish. How do you keep track of your ideas for your book as it grows?
- This book makes it very clear that there is a lot more to conservation than meets the eye… there is a whole socio-political angle to every conservation decision. And most often conservation, and the very animals in discussion, are the furthest thing from the agenda. This must be beyond frustrating for you… If you could change one thing in nature conservation right now, what would it be?
- Childhood has recently warped, from your life of running around exploring in the great outdoors, to “planned, supervised time for outdoor activities…” It appears that while the environment is under such pressure future generations of potential environmentalists are being removed from the playing field before they even get going. Do you have suggestions for families that really want to make a difference?
- Your work with the lions is far and away one of the most emotional roller-coasters one could ever read about, taking you to the highest highs and the lowest of lows, this is clearly not a job but a calling. When the going gets tough, it gets really tough and through grief and pain you have persevered. It seems crazy that in a world that claims to be so “for conservation,” that on the ground, the job is so hard. Is conservation in Africa a pithy idea or do you think something positive in wildlife conservation in Africa will emerge?
No, I did not know I would be a pioneer, but I knew that my heart was for the animals, especially for the lion. Regarding being a writer, since a child, I have always devoured books, especially about wildlife, and so writing my first book, Cry for the Lions, back in 1988, was a combination of my love of lions, my love of books, and seeing writing as a vehicle to create awareness for these animals.
This is why I began My Lion’s Heart questioning (somewhat provocatively) whether there are any new wildlife warriors emerging. Happily I end the book mentioning that there are new warriors emerging. But we need many more! I think they will come. Regarding hands-on conservation in Africa, we have to acknowledge and revive African Environmentalism, the original environmentalism that existed (and still exists in ways) throughout this continent prior to colonialism and colonial conservation. This is why I have revived my Sekai African Environmentalism Group (www.sekaiafrica.com). ‘Conservation’ in Africa did not begin in Africa with the arrival of the white man. It is not recognised today, that going back thousands of years, African’s were the world’s first ‘environmentalists’.
It is said that a cat has nine lives. Recently I counted up how many lives I have used, and it is twelve or so! I do not think it is so much a ‘life skill’, but more of listening to the intuition that I have been very blessed with, and that when things happened, it was not my time to go. And that it was meant to be that I had still work to do in my life.
I think with each project there is a book in mind, because as previously mentioned, books are my vehicle, my voice, to attempt to create awareness.
Usually I kept daily diaries, and they are invaluable in the process of writing books like mine. The outline is in my head, then I write, and the book evolves.
You are really correct about that. If I could change one thing, it would be to change the entrenched and dangerous apartheid conservation mindset in Southern Africa regarding wildlife, that ‘If it pays, it stays’. Instead, we seriously have to replace this with what the great naturalist/scientist/philosopher, George Schaller, once wrote:
‘We should not have to place a value on animals…we should be able to guarantee their freedom solely for their own sake, but man’s thinking has only just began to approach such a level of morality.’
‘Nature deprivation’ as it termed, can lead to many disorders in children. It is not always easy in these times, but parents (and themselves) must be aware of and promote what I believe is an inherent (though often smothered) wonder of nature in children. The same goes for the disease of loneliness that seriously plagues us in these modern times. For children, and for ourselves, we have to acknowledge and embrace that we are a part of everything around us. We are not alone.
And the se7en + 1th…
I am optimistic because never before (and in a big part, thanks to social media) in recent history has there been so much global awareness about environmental issues. Civil society has a voice today like never before, and it is vigorously demanding of government and big business that global environmental change must take place. Just this year alone, this was reflected massively by the global march for the lion, the global people’s climate march, and the global march for the rhino and elephant. And this I believe, will increasingly make a difference ‘on the ground.’
I was given the e-book to read and review, and to prepare for the author interview by Tracey McDonald Publishers. I was not paid to write this review and the opinions expressed are entirely my own. The photographs were given to me by Gareth Patterson to use in this post, if you want to see lots more photographs and read about is life… then head on over to Gareth Patterson’s Website. I could not have written this post without Tracey Mcdonald or Gareth Patterson, so thank you to both of you.