An Old Soul


It is when I am in the company of a lion, an old lion, aged and battle scarred, a being in the twilight of its journey, that I am always left with a sense of true happiness. Happiness because here before me stands a creature that represents a life fulfilled, a magnificent creature that lived wild and most importantly lived free. This old king personifies all that it means to be a lion, even now, in his final act, he looks as glorious as ever. An old lion, just like any other old being living wild and free, should not be looked upon as a relic representing what was, but should instead give rise to hope and should be a beacon for a future that’s worth fighting for. This old king is our reason to keep fighting to protect all wild beings and conserve our planet’s last wild spaces. His spirit and will to live should guide us in our quest to save what is left of his kin.

They are without a shadow of doubt one of the greatest creatures to have ever walked this planet, their grace, bravery, beauty and magnificence have been talked about from ancient fables to modern day documentaries. They have been revered since the dawn of man, their courage and indomitable spirit being the stuff of legends and their maternal instincts are the definition of love. Yet through all of our admiration for the king of beasts, for all the love that we seem to bestow upon this magnificent being, man has still found a way to torment and murder countless of beautiful lions in the name of sport, ignorance and the very fables that that have made us look upon the lion in awe. If the old lion is a testament to our unwavering spirit to save this iconic species, then, the thousands of lions that have perished at the hands of man are a testament to our insatiable greed and willingness to destroy all life, no matter how magnificent, in the name of vanity and money.


Lion numbers have seen a shocking decline, with some studies showing a dramatic population drop; almost 50% in the past 20 years across its original range. This number is alarming, and drastic steps have to be taken to ensure that one of our planet’s most iconic beings is afforded its right, just like any other living creature that shares this incredible home with us… a right to live free, live wild, and live to see its story play out the way nature intended. 

When you are in the presence of an old lion, you are seeing one of nature’s true masterpieces completed. A flawless being, whose life was not snatched by a poacher’s cruel snare or the vile bullet of a trophy hunter’s rifle, but rather, one whose life will be reclaimed by nature. One whose bones will surely fuel the fertile lands of the great continent of Africa, the way it was intended. An old lion does not represent the end, but rather represents a life lived in the great wilds of Africa.


We are now in the time of the last lions, but despair we must not, we should not bestow a feeling of tragedy and sorrow upon them, for this signals defeat, and defeat is an attribute that simply cannot be associated with a lion. Now is the time to embody the lion’s character itself and stand tall and fight for these incredible creatures even in the face of seemingly unsurmountable adversity. We must prove that humanity will not be defined by greed and bloodlust, but we must now choose to be defined as lions are. We must, so that all that’s left of these beautiful creatures are not lost to the pages of fables. 

There are many incredible organizations and individuals doing incredible work to ensure the survival of this magnificent species. However, it cannot be left on the shoulders of just these individuals, it is our responsibility as the so-called stewards of this planet to do everything we can in every little way to ensure the survival of WILD lions. We should implore those we know to avoid visiting places with captive lions, or places that promote cub petting. These places often label themselves as “sanctuaries” but are far from it, and in fact many of them are involved in cub petting and the cruel lion bone trade. Choose rather to explore the many beautiful national parks across Africa and other wild spaces that are home to wild, free lions, that exist the only way lions should. I had someone once point out that an old lion would survive much longer in a zoo, but I vehemently pointed out that, a zoo is no place for a creature like a lion, and that there is a stark difference between existing and LIVING. 

See, the lions held captive in a zoo or any other captive facility and not really lions anymore, for the very thing that makes them lions has been removed, and that is freedom. Animals in the wild face many obstacles, hardships and tragedies. However, even though they face what seems to be an uphill battle on the best of days, they still possess something that no animal in captivity will ever be fortunate enough to exercise, and that is freedom of will. A freedom to direct out their days whichever way they please in their beautiful kaleidoscopic worlds. When I think of all the lions held captive around the world, it truly breaks my heart, because captive lions are but a shell of their wild kin. The very essence that would define them as a lion has been dimmed simply so that we can gawk at them, behind bars or facades of natural worlds. There is also a very different mentality inherent when viewing these very different types of lions in completely different worlds, at zoos lions are usually surrounded by laughter and a chorus of chatter, screaming kids, with the odd human tapping at the exhibit glass to illicit a reaction (because looking at a lion is simply not enough), in the wild however, lions are viewed in almost utter silence and this is because when you view lions in the wild, there is a degree of respect that is second to none. When you spend time in the company of a wild lion, you are humbled as a living being, because you are in the presence of the king of beasts with a free will to do as he pleases, to be free, to live free, to simply exist as a lion, and in that lies a beauty that can only be experienced in the wild, with creatures that are exercising their right to simply be.

See, the old lion, the old soul, the torn and tattered one, with bumps and bruises, scars and broken teeth, may simply be one of the most beautiful things you will ever lay your eyes on, because each one of those scars represent a different chapter in the story of freedom. The irony of these “imperfections” is that they become the definition of perfection itself, because that’s what a life lived free is... a statement of perfection. An old lion is a testament of that. Whenever I see an old lion, I am filled with such an incredible happiness, its indescribable, and almost brings me to tears, because I’m am in the company of an old king, who, in his final act, is as beautiful as the African sunset, and as magnificent as the continent itself. 

When I see this old soul, this beautiful old king, I am never sad, there is just happiness abound. For here is a king, still living free, in the twilight of his existence, choosing to be whatever his heart desires, choosing to go wherever he pleases, choosing to be a lion, living wild and free in his Africa.

When I see an old lion, I am never sad, I am just filled with hope, and a sense of awe and I just think to myself “inkosi enhle ethandekayo, ukuthi uhle kangakanan” (dear old king, how beautiful you are)

Just like an old lion, it is all of nature’s old souls that define the beauty and essence of life and the freedom to live it. 

Faizel Ismail