A travel writer and photojournalist chronicles the history and assesses the current precarious conditions of one of the world’s most beloved animals.
When the well-known Zimbabwean lion Cecil was killed by an American trophy hunter in 2015, the outrage that followed indicated the emotional ties that we have with the “king of beasts.” Evans, who has written for the Boston Globe, Lonely Planet, and other publications, offers an in-depth report on the status of lions around the world, which are now facing extinction. She begins her account with cave lions, a species roaming the Earth during the Ice Age and known today from a few fossils and from paintings in the Chauvet Cave in Ardèche, France. The author speculates about their demise and then examines the reasons why the present-day species, Panthera leo, has declined catastrophically from the millions to perhaps 20,000 in sub-Saharan Africa and some 500 in a preserve in Gujarat, India. In two chapters, darkly titled “People Hate Lions, Part I and Part II,” Evans shows how humans have been a major factor in their decline. She makes clear the impact of loss of wild habitat through conversion of lion country to farm country, the impact of bushmeat hunting and killing to obtain lion body parts for medicinal use, and the rise in viral infections. Evans combines research and personal experience to investigate the issues involved, showing both points of view in the controversial question of whether trophy hunting is a positive or a negative force. She also looks at the conflicts that arise when human beings and lions live in close proximity to each other. Much of her book, however, is focused on conservation efforts. She demonstrates the successes achieved by conservation projects all over Africa as well as the problems they face.
If awareness, goodwill, and motivation are key, this highly readable report is a valuable effort to turn the Cecil moment into a movement.