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.
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.