ZAMBA by Ralph Helfer


The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived
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An object lesson in living peacefully with animals, even a lion.

Fifty years ago, Helfer (Modoc, 1997) was a revolutionary: a trainer who relied on trust and respect, not the standard fear training. He developed a positive relationship with his animal companions through what he calls “affection training,” encouraging in his charges the patience and understanding to deal with humans. Helfer got a chance to test his theory when some friends brought an orphaned African lion cub named Zamba to his Santa Monica ranch. His fellow trainers called him a fool. The lion would turn on him, they warned, as soon as he was old enough to consider Helfer dinner rather than benefactor. It never happened. Helfer and Zamba went on to become motion picture and television legends. During their 18 years together, they had many adventures, from designing a bed big enough for the two of them (the lion was a bed hog) to a bit of dentistry, which quickly reminded Helfer that Zamba was still an animal, more than willing to remove a finger if it got in his mouth while an abscess was being extricated. A 1960 shoot in Africa for a movie called The Lion commands the second half of the text. The days were long enough to make Zamba cranky, and there were snakes in the garden as well. At one point, Zamba was kidnapped, only to be abandoned when the kidnappers realized their charge wasn’t exactly docile. With so much attention lavished on this extraordinary lion, it comes as a shock to learn that Helfer’s farm is home to more than 1,500 animals, all of which get the same kind of care as Zamba. The last pages describe a horrific flood at the ranch that could have erased all of Helfer’s good works.

Beautifully expresses a simple philosophy so many have trouble following: respect for all living creatures, given and returned.

Pub Date: July 10th, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-076132-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2005