It’s not often I have the chance to sit next to a 650-pound animal who’s a member of an endangered species. His name was Kenya and he was a full grown African Lion.
I was there because of an unanswered question my clients had been asking for years: “How do circus animals feel about their lives?”. I finally decided to see for myself. Keeping an open mind in spite of my misgivings, my husband and I got tickets that included a behind the scenes tour before the show.
I brought my camera hoping to capture some good photos of these special animals. They’d given up their freedom to perform for humans and I wanted to paint them in honor of their sacrifice. As we approached a large, empty enclosure and the handler announced they’d be letting out the big cats, I watched as several lions and tigers appeared from behind a wall. One large male sauntered up to a wooden crate directly in front of us, flopped down and began to bathe himself, his enormous paws stroking and smoothing his mane. He eyed my camera and then closed his eyes, continuing his bath. With only a chain-link fence to separate us, I could see every detail of his fur. He was breath-taking. I decided to see if he’d talk to me.
I silently signaled that I would be honored to have a conversation with him. He stretched out, laid his
head down, opened his eyes and starred straight at me for an instant. It was a clear signal to go ahead.
“Thank you…you’re so handsome. Please understand I mean no ill will, but you live a caged life. How is that for you?”
“There are children here today watching the show” was his response.
My thoughts raced…….”As in edible snacks?” I wondered.
“And for many of them it’s the first time they’ve seen anything like me. Some of them will go home and want to learn more about lions. And this will help save others like me who live in the wild.”
I was completely taken aback. This was NOT the answer I had expected. Humbled by Kenya’s response, I thanked him for not only his wisdom and foresight but for his willingness to be such a profound teacher. I did paint him. His portrait is titled “King Spirit”. I’ll never forget him.