Wildlife cham­pion

In our series about peo­ple with a pas­sion for a species, we ask chil­dren’s au­thor Lau­ren St John why she cares so much about African li­ons.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS - LAU­REN ST JOHN is a con­ser­va­tion­ist and au­thor. Her lat­est chil­dren’s book is Kat Wolfe Takes the Case (Macmil­lan Chil­dren’s Books, £6.99).

Chil­dren’s au­thor Lau­ren St John re­veals her love of African li­ons

Why are you cham­pi­oning the lion?

Li­ons are so iconic that most peo­ple imag­ine they’ll be around for­ever. In fact, wild lion pop­u­la­tions have col­lapsed due to an ex­plo­sion in canned hunt­ing. In South Africa, thou­sands of ‘blood li­ons’ are bred like farmed pup­pies, raised by un­wit­ting young vol­un­teers. As th­ese li­ons grow, they grad­u­ate to be­ing ‘walked’ by tourists, be­fore be­ing sold to for­eign hunters on a ‘no-kill, no-fee’ ba­sis. Their body parts are then shipped to the Far East. Tro­phy hunters are also dec­i­mat­ing wild prides. It’s heart­break­ing.

Tell us about your most mem­o­rable lion en­counter.

I’ll never for­get meet­ing Sin­bad, a res­cue lion, at Shamwari Game Re­serve in South Africa. As a cub, he was used for self­ies on a tourist beach. When he grew too big, he was locked in a hideous cage and thrown scraps for years be­fore be­ing saved in 2007. De­spite years of abuse, he has the kind­est eyes and gen­tlest na­ture of al­most any an­i­mal I’ve ever met. He al­ways makes me think of As­lan in C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Will we ever re­duce – maybe even solve – con­flicts be­tween peo­ple and th­ese amaz­ing cats?

There are many rel­a­tively sim­ple ways to re­solve hu­man-wildlife conf lict – grow­ing chillies around a vil­lage to de­ter ele­phants, say – but all re­quire po­lit­i­cal will and ex­per­tise. One way of help­ing li­ons is help­ing peo­ple re­place large herds of scrawny sheep and cat­tle with fewer healthy ones, thus re­duc­ing the graz­ing area needed. Other wildlife and the en­vi­ron­ment ben­e­fits, too. A win-win so­lu­tion.

You’re an am­bas­sador for Born Free. What made you get in­volved?

I grew up sav­ing an­i­mals with my mom, dad and sis­ter on a farm and game re­serve in Zim­babwe. Af­ter I wrote The White Gi­raffe, I wanted to cam­paign to make con­ser­va­tion an in­te­gral part of the UK school cur­ricu­lum. I started work­ing with the Born Free Foun­da­tion, whose ethos is that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual an­i­mal mat­ters. I’ve been with them to res­cue leop­ards from a Cyprus zoo and dol­phins from a tiny pool in Turkey. See­ing those beau­ti­ful crea­tures re­turn to the wild has been among the most spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ences of my life.

Kat Wolfe, the hero of your lat­est series, is a strong girl who adores an­i­mals – is she based on you?

I’ve never con­sciously based any of my char­ac­ters on my­self – quite the op­po­site – but Kat and Casey Blue in my One Dol­lar Horse series are prob­a­bly the most like me in terms of the way they feel about an­i­mals and stand­ing up to peo­ple who choose to harm the most vul­ner­a­ble crea­tures and hu­mans in our world. Of course, writ­ing chil­dren’s ad­ven­ture sto­ries is also the most joy­ous and fun wish ful­fil­ment there is! Ben Hoare

I grew up sav­ing an­i­mals with my mom, dad and sis­ter on a farm and game re­serve.

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