The Soul of a Lion, an engaging memoir by Willie Labuschagne, is an exhilarating journey which begins with the young conservationist’s unique experiences with wild animals. From his groundbreaking research on the desert cheetah’s behaviour and ecology to becoming an internationally respected consultant on environmental and wildlife-related issues, he holds the reader’s attention with all the skill of the master storyteller.
The numerous occasions when Willie faced potentially life-threatening situations with wild animals are vividly recounted, many of them wryly humorous while others evoke deep emotion. But not all animal encounters took place in the wild. A significant and poignant encounter that further inspired Willie’s approach to conservation occurred when, during his time as director of the Johannesburg Zoo, he and his family hand-raised a newborn lion cub that had been rejected by its mother. He recalls the countless obstacles put in his way by the bureaucratic nature of his own species during his tenure at the zoo. But despite numerous challenges he persisted in his goal of transforming and improving zoological institutions.
A moving force behind the changing nature of professionally managed zoological gardens, his book reminds us that, while many of the world’s zoos should be unconditionally closed, progressive modern zoos are becoming increasingly aligned to wildlife conservation: they are vital for ensuring the survival of threatened species.