The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Panthera leo, the lion, Africa’s most iconic symbol, is dwindling in numbers at an alarming rate. In the 1970s there were over 200,000 lions on the African continent, today there are estimated to be 20,000-30,000 remaining. That is an 80-90 percent decline in the past four decades. 26 countries have already seen their lion populations go extinct, and Kenya and Uganda expect to see their lions populations go extinct as well within the next 10 years. Only seven countries currently have viable lion populations of 1,000 or more individuals.
I‘ve wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember, but as the years have gone by that dream took a backseat to things more familiar, more expected, more applicable to life as I’ve always known it. The dream never went away, and one day a few years back I woke up (or so it seems) and decided that getting to Africa was my priority, and figuring out the details my mission.
If I’ve always been interested in Africa, I have now fallen head-over-heels in love. Painfully in love. For me, going to Africa has always been about the animals, but as I’ve been reading book after book in preparation for this trip my love has grown to encompass the place and its people, its beauty and its tragedies. This is a continent with an embarrassment of riches, but it is being decimated by corrupt governments, wars, genocides, hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, and HIV/AIDS. I want to blame the people of Africa for not fighting to take care of their animals, but in reading these stories I start to understand why it doesn’t take priority when everyday is a fight just to survive. And while the survival of this continent’s animals will aid in the prosperity of the people by bringing in tourist dollars and creating jobs, how do you muster up the courage and energy to act when your government is doing everything in its power to increase the wealth of its party leaders while threatening its people, sometimes killing them, for even talking about change? This is what I can’t wrap my head around. How do you fight devastating civil wars to gain democracy and independence only to create new governments that are just as corrupt and stifling, if not worse than the previous ones?
I know I’m romanticizing this place given all its troubles. I have some grand dream of going there and not just helping in some very small way, but also feeling that I belong there. In reality, I will probably feel anything except that I belong there. How could I? Still, these stories describing lives so completely foreign to anything I have ever experienced in my life – they feel like home. Like a place I’m supposed to be.
And so, I am in love. Only time will tell if it’s a case of blissful infatuation where I will inevitably be let down and disappointed once I get to know Africa better and reality sinks in, or if my love will deepen and be taken to a higher level with a new understanding from my first-hand experience. Time will tell.