In 1986, I was a young American exchange student who had a chance to study at the University of Zimbabwe — it opened my eyes to the wonder of Africa. Right now, I am sitting in the middle of the country once again, staying at Antelope Park, near Gweru where my eyes have been opened once again by one’s man passion and persistence.
Andrew Conolly is a man who has stayed in his native Zimbabwe through good times and bad, and now has dedicated his life to try and help save the African lion — despite the fact that a lion took his left arm twenty years ago.
“Some people would give an arm and a leg to save the lion. I’m halfway there.”
There are two things I love in people I am fortunate enough to meet — passion and a complete lack of patience with people who just talk the talk and never get around to walking the walk.
Almost everyone agrees that lion populations in Africa are in trouble. Most experts think that the total number of lions has fallen from around 250,000 to now just over 30,000. And while many people are certainly working to help save the lion, far too much of the work, in my opinion, is being done in conferences and meetings where there is far too much talk. This annoys Andrew to no end — as it should. He tells me about how in the 1960s, everyone was talking about saving the rhino and talking hasn’t done much good. It’s hard to argue with that.
“One conference I went to, they spent the first day talking about creating a three sentence description of the conference. I didn’t make the second day.”
The more Andrew Conolly learned about what was happening with wild lions throughout Africa, the more he thought he damm well better do something about it — and he’s done more than any single man I know.
Alert, the lion conservation and research group that Andrew started, is now well on its way to being one of leading groups in Africa — running major research projects across Zimbabwe and Zambia and more importantly seeking to reintroduce lions across Africa in the next five years.
Here in Zimbabwe, over one hundred lions have been raised and now many are ready to be re-introduced to the wild with discussions going on right now with at least five governments across the continent.
It’s been a long journey for Andrew who has fought the critics and sometimes fellow conservationists who don’t think you should raise lions to save them — far less give people the chance to walk with them on his property here as he does. It’s a shame, in my opinion, that with the future of the lion at stake, so much time is spent talking about options and groups fighting each other instead of supporting each other. There is a lot more need the way I see it for people to get here and get their hands dirty on the ground here in Africa.
“That would be hand for me James.”
For Andrew Conolly to have been able to do so much here in Zimbabwe over the last twenty years, where the country itself has been so much, is nothing short of a miracle. He has done it as farms like his have been seized, through hyper-inflation, the collapse of the local currency and much much more. Throughout it all, he has just kept moving forward.
Tomorrow, I have to leave here. I have had the chance to visit the wild lions here who have already been reintroduced to a five hundred acre part of Andrew’s property here. Researchers spent six to eight hours a day documenting the lions behavior and remarkably, the behavior is exactly the same as wild lions which they soon will completely be.
“I always knew that — but I had to prove it — now we have a decades worth of data.”
There are lots of groups fighting to help the lions and other endangered animals here in Africa. I wish them all well.
But none more so than my new friend Andrew Conolly who will talk your ear off when given the chance, but will soon get up from the table to go check on the progress around his land, or even to just go make sure one single lion is okay.
Every time he walks away to go do something, I think of all the people who are just talking about saving the lion and I am happy that I now know a man who is walking the walk and doing something about it.
To learn more or to visit, www.lionalert.org
I learned that when you walk with lions, it’s easy for someone to tell you to hold still if a lion approaches.
I strongly encourage you to visit Antelope Park in Zimbabwe.